LFA7, Machynlleth, Wales
Within the United Kingdom there are a number of military low level training areas. The northern part of Wales is a popular location for this type of activity given its varied and mountainous terrain, and this area is referred to as LFA7 (Low Fly Area 7).
It should be noted that aircraft are by no means guaranteed on any given day. It is quite possible to draw a 'blank' depending on military operations, serviceability and weather factors to name a few. However, with determination and patience the rewards can be exceptional. Types of aircraft that may be seen in the area include, F-15E Strike Eagle, Typhoon FGR4, Hawk T.2, Hercules and helicopters. If there is a detachment of foreign aircraft within the UK upon visiting the Mach Loop who knows, you may get lucky!
One of the principal viewing locations and one that is great for first-timers is the 'Bwlch'. This is where low level photography began for me. It can be found on the A470 road situated five miles east of Dolgellau and the start of the path that leads to the viewing shelves is identified by a car park at the apex of the road before it drops down to Dinas Mawddwy.
A breathtaking view from the 'top shelf' of the BWLCH, image taken by Mark Lynham with myself sitting in the foreground.
As its name suggests the Mach Loop is effectively a roundabout for low level traffic offering tight turns within the mountains. There are various viewing locations around the Mach Loop however it should be noted that these are situated high up in the hills. Therefore the weather can change rapidly and one needs to be of a certain fitness level and dress appropriately, packing for all eventualities.
At various points it is possible for aircraft to fly as low as 250ft at over 450 knots but in certain area's can go as low as 100ft. South of Dolgellau an area known by many as the 'Mach Loop' is one such place to witness this spectacle.
From the middle or top shelf you get a fantastic view of the valley if visibility permits. Approaching aircraft snake their way through the twist and turns of this very narrow valley allowing ample time to prepare yourself and camera. The aircraft usually come in from the east and can either turn left towards Cad, straight on for Dolgellau or turn right and head up towards Bala.
Corris Corner is another stunning location positioned at the south western end of the Tall-Y-llyn pass, and sits high above a lake. The aircraft have 2 options at this part of the loop; they can either continue over the lake heading out to the sea, or turn sharp left following the valley to Corris. If they take the latter option it offers superb topside views and if there is moisture in the air can produce amazing vapour trails.
There are more locations in the loop that I have yet to try including CAD East and West. These locations offer beautiful views of the Tall-Y-llyn pass and on a good visibility day you can see all the way to Snowdon and Bala. From both vantage points approaching aircraft can be seen very early allowing good preparation time. Depending on which side you choose, East allows head-on, belly and side-on shots while West allows dramatic topside views. Whichever location you choose if you are lucky to see any military aircraft movements you won't be disappointed.