THE STUNNING speed and remarkable skill of the pilots and planes that thread the eye of the needle at speeds of up to 500mph at just 100feet above the ground has been showcased in a new book.
Incredible images show fighter jets zooming through narrow gaps, flying scarily close to land and rippling the water in the lakes as they power past.
Other striking shots show tow planes navigating past a huge wind turbine, skimming the surface of the sea and the view from the cockpit looking out at the world below.
The amazing low-level military flying has been showcased in photo-journalist Philip Stevens’ new book, Thunder Through The Valleys, published by Fonthill Media.
“In time of war it is still often necessary for pilots to fly very low using the terrain to evade enemy radar and make surprise attacks,” he writes in the book’s introduction.
“Pilots are also required to provide close air support for ground forces, requiring them to use direct fire weapons rather than using stand-off precision guided munitions.
“Friendly forces on the ground can call in aircraft for a ‘show of force’ to deter a less sophisticated enemy. Pilots may be tasked to fly low to identify targets. Peace-support or peace-keeping operations and humanitarian relief may also necessitate low altitude sorties to be flown.
“Many air forces have a programme for training their pilots to fly at low-level to fulfil their squadron’s mission. Tactical low flying is not an easy skill to acquire and retain. Pilots will gradually step down in height until they reach the lowest level required and then they must train frequently to retain their skills.
“Any mistake made by a pilot flying at very fast speeds just a few hundred feet above the ground could be catastrophic. Apart from the risk of colliding with the terrain, which can be difficult to see due to poor weather or darkness, pilots are at risk from hitting birds, hang-gliders, masts, mechanical failure or other aircraft.”
Stevens also explained it’s not just the low-level flying pilots who face a challenge but the photographer who aims to capture them in flight.
“Low flying photography is all about standing on a valley hillside and capturing a military aircraft flying at low-level at extreme speeds as the pilots fly past on a training sortie,” he said.
“For the image to be acceptable the background must be the terrain and not the sky, a ‘sky shot’ is generally rejected by the low-level photographer.
“Knowing where to go on the day requires experience combined with a good weather forecast. The time of the day, the season of the year, the weather (cloud or sun) all affect the image.
“In many ways the background is just as important if not more so than the subject aircraft. By travelling to different places, the backgrounds vary considerably from; fields, to trees, rocks, lakes, rivers, canyons and deserts.
“The hillside location within a valley often dictates the angle of the aircraft relative to the camera. This is important if you are to get varied shots of the aircraft, from side on, to undersides, to profile shots or flying towards you or away from you.”