Any resident of North Wales will tell you that even the most silent, peaceful of days can suddenly, without warning, be filled with the incredible, thunderous roar of low flying military aircraft. Nowhere is this more true than the Mach Loop.
Set within the tranquil, picturesque mountains of the Snowdonia National Park, the Mach Loop is a winding circle of dramatic valleys between the rural towns of Dolgellau, Machynlleth and Mallwyd in the southern end of the park. This makes for one of the most awesome viewing areas for low-level, tactical military flying.
The UK is divided into 20 Low Flying Areas (LFA), with three containing dedicated Tactical Training Areas (TTA). The Mach Loop falls into LFA 7 (TTA), where military aircraft routinely conduct essential training down to 250ft and occasionally as low as 100ft.
Visitors to the loop can expect a moderate hike up the mountainsides to well-known viewing spots – namely ‘Cad’ (East and West) ‘Bwlch’ and ‘Bluebell’ – where anything from RAF Hawks and Hercules C-130J to USAF F15 and V-22 Osprey aircraft fly through the valley, allowing the opportunity for a rare, bird’s-eye view.
Avgeeks and military enthusiasts travel from far and wide, patiently waiting in the hope of securing a front row seat to see these incredible aircraft. Seemingly tiny at first, swooping around a distant corner against the mountainous backdrop, their impressive scale fast becomes clear before effortlessly banking near 90 degrees to pass through the valley, then they’re off into the distance before turning the next corner. Blink and you will miss it.
The loop has gained a serious following in recent years thanks to social media, and it’s easy to see why it is such a popular attraction, even for those less obsessed with aviation. The whole experience and comprehension of the skill involved at such great speeds is truly awe-inspiring, all the while among the spectacular scenery that Wales has to offer.
Recent sightings: Hawk-T2, Texan-T1, Hercules (C-130J), Atlas (A400m), F15, Osprey, Chinook
Tips for plane spotting in the Mach Loop
• Patience, patience, patience! Military flying in this area is anything but guaranteed, so take a blanket, some snacks and plenty of layers.
• The Loop goes anti-clockwise – if in doubt follow everyone else’s camera lenses.
• Bring your umbrella, it’s Wales!
• Finally, just take it all in. Photos are great but sometimes simply watching these military birds maneuver majestically through the steep narrow valleys is the most priceless moment to take away with you.