Another tick off the bucket list - the Mach Loop Wales 2019
By Willie Bodenstein and Juri Keyter
When we departed Suffolk for the 4.5 hour drive to Machynlleth in Wales, it was going to be our first visit to the Mach Loop and as was to be expected, we could not wait to get there. We had planned to spend two days at the Loop and have booked a B&B for our stay.
The Mach Loop from the lake at the south. Cad West and East are the two mountain peaks at the far northern end.
The Mach Loop is a series of valleys nestled between the Welsh towns of Dolgellau to the north and Machynlleth to the south. The name Mach loop is short for Machynlleth and does not refer to, as originally thought, to Mach as in the speed of sound. The valley is part of the Royal Air Force's fast jet Low Flying training Area (LFA) covering most of Wales. However, propeller aircraft like the C-130J, Short Tucano, Airbus A400M, V-22 Osprey, Chinook and Pilatus PC-7 are also regular visitors.
There is no program or schedule on aircraft movements through the loop so what you see (or don't see) depends on the luck of the draw. We have researched the Loop on the web and have planned our visit according to what we thought would be the prime positions. Before booking into our accommodation, we familiarized us with the area and parking arrangements, entrances etcetera.
The parking area at the Loop late on Tuesday afternoon. Not all visitors go to the top or are there to photograph the aircraft. The pathway to Cad West is just off center on the top of the photograph.
We were up early on Tuesday morning and when we arrived at the parking area capable of accommodating approximately 30 carefully parked vehicles, we found three already there.
The summit of Cad East when we got there. The mist lifted soon afterwards.
Looking south down the valley. Aircraft turn away just before the dam.
Looking north from Cad East the aircraft enter the loop either straight down the middle or from the right. The pathway up Cad West follows the ridge on the left.
Willie on Cad East.
We elected to try Cad East on our first day and to get there, you simply cross the road for a long daunting climb that eventually takes one about 350 meters above the road. It was misty all the way up and although some rain was forecast, we were fortunate that it stayed dry all day long. Eventually reaching the summit, we found that we were the first ones there.
Our first Mach Loop aircraft was this Pilatus PC-7, one of a pair.
Another pair later flew down the loop.
We had a total of five fly past on Tuesday. Three solo Hawk's paid a visit.
It's a loooong way to travel and not see anything so we were extremely relieved and excited when we heard the first sounds of approaching aircraft. It might have only been a pair of Pilatus PC-7's but we were happy as we were going to photograph our first Mach Loop aircraft.
We decided to spend Wednesday on Cad West and since it was raining lightly when we woke up, we got there a bit later and were the fourth car in the parking area. Two were empty, their drivers having left and since we did not see them on our climb, they must have braved the climb up Cad East. In fact, most of the day's visitors were on Cad East.
Juri climbing up to our spot on Cad West. Imagine climbing a flight of stairs 600 meters long after an almost kilometer steady gradual climb. That is what getting halfway up Cad West is like.
Juri on our spot halfway up Cad West on Wednesday.
Thursday we were regaled with two low high-speed fly pasts by a Hawk.
There was a lot of activity with the sounds of jet engines in the clouds teasing us as we struggled up the mountain. We found a perfect spot and waited there (maybe we were just too tired to continue further). The activity continued but it was around 11.00 when we had our first visitors, some Hawks. We saw a few more after 12:30 and from there waited patiently until 15h00 when we finally decided to pack up and start our journey back to home base.
We may not have seen the other heavy metal aircraft which we were hoping for but the Loop in our opinion has lived up to its reputation as one of the most sought-after spots conducive to spectacular aviation photography. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of regular visitors during the two days we spoke to confirmed that you can except some sort of activity, weather permitting obviously, on most days.