Camouflage color scheme works: F/A-18F Nearly Disappears in Rainbow Canyon!

This photo explains why combat planes still wear camouflaged color schemes!

A unique U.S. Navy F/A-18F bearing a brown camouflage scheme has likely had many question why a US Navy Strike Fighter would be such a color.

A recent pass by the “Rhino” deep through “Rainbow Canyon” should put those questions to rest as the jet almost disappears as it races through the canyon at a very low level.

This particular F/A-18 belongs to the VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” based out of NAS Lemoore and flown by the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). The FRS is tasked to train aircrew and maintenance personnel to fly and maintain both the Legacy Hornet and the Super Hornet – or “Rhino” as it is called.

Rainbow Canyon is located adjacent to Death Valley, CA and the flight through the canyon out into the expanse of Death Valley is referred to as the “Jedi Transition.” The location has become very popular with photographers from around the world and typically has 4 to 8 aircraft pass through on any given day (though some days there are none!).

While not the Mach Loop in fame or flight frequency, it is one of the few locations in the United States photographers can catch military fighters “in the wild.”

Visitors will typically see a variety of aircraft from primarily NAS Lemoore and Edwards AFB – though aircraft are often seen from NAWS China Lake, Nellis AFB, and the CANG base Fresno, CA.

Image credit: Todd Miller


  1. What’s like the typical distances between fighters during a dogfight/furball? and the speed which they move… It just seem like it’ll be a tiny dot to the naked eye, where color matters little. :P No fighter pilot, I could be wrong.

    • I think that human vision is only accurate and able to distinguish shapes in a very narrow field of vision, and frther more at high speed. On the outer of this field, you would mostly notice things incoming due to difference of colors and contrasts.
      So I think that this kind of colors scheme really do makes things harder.

  2. Since when are various shades of brown a “rainbow”? I suspect that whoever named that canyon was suffering from heat stroke.

  3. Question for the readership: my understanding is that only the F/A-18F is (unofficially) the “Rhino,” in order to give it a distinguishing reference from the single-seat F/A-18Es. But many decks also include USMC F/A-18C/Ds.

    How do the references go on-deck for the…?

    * USMC F/A-18C Hornet:
    * USMC F/A-18D Hornet:
    * USN F/A18-E Super Hornet:
    * USN F/A-18F Super Hornet:

    • The ‘Rhino’ name was invented to disambiguate Super Hornets (both E & F) from what are known as ‘legacy’ Hornets (A & C) when talking to the Landing Signal Officers on the radio because the arresting gear settings for the two types of jets are different. There is no distinction made between USN & USMC jets on the radio. Of note, the F-18D is never carrier based due to lack of fuel reserves caused by the WSO’s seat replacing about 1000 pounds of JP-5.

      Similarly, the E-2D is referred to as ‘Tracer’ on the LSO freq to differentiate it from the E-2C ‘Hawkeye’ since the newer aircraft is much heavier & requires different AG settings.

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