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While preparing for an upcoming deployment with the 2515th Navy Air Ambulance Detachment, LTJG Jeff Ryan compares low-level desert flying to Star Wars.

Star Wars Comes to Life

The following is the 2nd post by NavyLive guest blogger, LTJG Jeff Ryan, who is preparing for an upcoming deployment with the 2515th Navy Air Ambulance Detachment.

Over the sands of Tatooine

I’ll begin my workups for the Air Ambulance deployment in about a couple weeks, but I have a few training flights left to finish before then. One of these is an introduction to low-level desert flying (a good thing to see before I get to Kuwait), and last week a couple of us were preparing for the event when we got a surprise call from our instructor.

He said that rather than flying the normal route to the desert just outside of San Diego, we would go further east to a desolate area a few miles from the Arizona border. We were a bit frustrated with this last minute change, but then our day took another twist. He said that our new flight plan would take us directly over the planet Tatooine—or rather Southern California’s Glamis Dunes, where scenes of the planet were filmed for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in 1982.

For me, this was something interesting to look forward to, but for my friend Jake, the pilot of the other aircraft in the flight and the quintessential Star Wars fanatic, it was too much to handle. This was where the Jawas attacked R2D2: how could you not be excited? He even went as far as to get the latitude and longitude of the filming so we could see exactly where we were in relation to some of the scenes—I wish I was making this up.

The next morning our two aircraft headed out east from North Island, over the mountains, and into the Imperial Valley to fuel up for our trip into a galaxy far, far away. As we left civilization behind, a vast stretch of desert lay before us with only the random phone wires to suggest civilization was in the vicinity. And then, in the distance, a rise in the terrain suggested that Tatooine was not far off.

We arrived at the dunes, descended to 100 feet, and snaked through them like a modern day Death Star trench run. The helicopter’s missile mounts (seen above) even made us look like some spacecraft out of the movie. Unfortunately, the flight was not merely a Star Wars re-enactment. There was training to be done so we left the dunes behind for landings in the dried-up riverbeds nearby before heading home.

We left the otherworldly desert in our rearview mirrors (literally–our helicopters actually have those), made it back to North Island, and called it a day. But as we left the squadron Jake, with an enormous smile on his face, informed me that based on his aircraft’s GPS we had been mere yards from where C3P0 and R2D2 walked into Jabba the Hutt’s palace light years ago.

LTJG Ryan is an MH-60S Fleet Replacement Pilot. He underestimates how much people love Star Wars.

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