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Aerial Canyon Chase

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"It'll be just like Beggar's Canyon back home."
Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: A New Hope

Sometimes, just fighting head to head in the air isn't enough. When a creator really wants to showcase the Ace Pilot's skills and keep the audience on the edge of their seats, he'll have the character lead the bad guys on a high speed chase through a very narrow area.

As the name might suggest, these usually occur in canyons, although Asteroid Thickets are the go-to replacement for Science Fiction. Modern settings may substitute skyscrapers for the canyon walls, as well. Caves or tunnels can also be substituted. Note that if the pursuers crash before entering the canyon/asteroid thicket/alley/tunnel, it's just Try and Follow, not this trope.

Expect to see lots of fast pans and quick camera changes, as well as tense music and close calls. This also has the benefit of missed shots from the pursuer striking the surroundings to showcase how dangerous they really are, lending more urgency to the fight.

Sub-Trope of Try and Follow. Sister Trope of Airstrike Impossible. Often includes instances of a Wronski Feint, Belly-Scraping Flight, or Dodge by Braking.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A variation in the Area 88 OAV, where several pilots fly through a canyon to avoid SAM batteries. Many don't make it.
  • Used in the last episode of Grendizer, when General Gandal (Minos) tries to ram his ship into Grendizer in a suicide attack. Duke Freed manages to make him crash into a cliff, since the Spazer (Grendizer's UFO) was still controllable, while Gandal's flagship was a flaming mess.
  • This happens in the first episode of Yukikaze, as Fukai and Yukikaze chase Copy Sylph into a canyon. The chase ends when Copy Sylph simply vanishes into thin air... after calling in an antiaircraft nuclear missile to take out Yukikaze.

    Comic Books 
  • Dan Dare actually went and subverted this in at least one of its iterations, during the 'All Treens Must Die' storyline. After being released from his imprisonment for genocide as Earth, now with its defences offline, came under a surprise assault from the Mekon's invasion force, in a last, desperate bid to do something, Dan and his crew were bunged into the Anastasia and told to do whatever they could. When one enemy fighter launched a missile on their tail, Dan tried to use the Wronski Feint with a local canyon to escape it. Unfortunately, the missile was just as good, and his attempts to get back out of the canyon were thwarted by fighter wings at a higher altitude keeping them pinned down. With a mountain looming up ahead, Dan tried pulling straight up anyway, noted the missile was still unfazed, and just turned to his crew and apologised. Annie promptly took the missile up the tailpipe.
  • Deff Skwadron: As Deff Skwadron is pursuing a messenger squigeon, it flies into a canyon. Goose tries to follow it, taking his time to line up the shot... and promptly crashes.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Doraemon: Nobita's Dinosaur had Nobita, Doraemon and friends being trapped in prehistoric times and getting pursued by a flock of pterodactyls in a narrow canyon while wearing their take-copters. Things took a turn for the worse when Doraemon couldn't find a suitable gadget in the chaos (Rummage Fail happens as usual, no surprise) and when he eventually found the pack of Momotaro pills (which is used to tame wild beasts), a passing pterosaur knocks the pills out of Doraemon's hands. And then another pterosaur caused Gian's take-copter to fall off, where Nobita had to hold Gian before he could fall to his death. When things start looking really hopeless... comes the Dinosaur Hunters suddenly blasting the pterosaurs out of the sky.
  • How to Train Your Dragon features this a couple times. Once with no chase in a training stage and then with a chase in the climax.
  • The climax of Lilo & Stitch involved Jumba, Pleakley, Nani, and Stitch flying in a giant spaceship to save Lilo from Gantu, who accidentally captured her while attempting to capture Stitch (he escaped), by chasing him down a series of volcano-filled canyons located all over Hawaii. Originally, they were going to go after Gantu by chasing him down with a stolen passenger jet into the capital city of Honolulu, but due to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, the entire scene had to be reanimated into what we see in the final version of the film.
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs has one when Buck, Crash, and Eddie ride a pterosaur to recover Sid. On the way there, a flock of more hostile pterosaurs force them to detour and fly through a canyon. The canyon chase itself has many moments between both the mammals and the predators (including a shot parodying a televised car race), mostly when berry bombs are used to get rid of the pursuers. Several pterosaurs have themselves blasted down by the explosions.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Trope Codifier is quite possibly 633 Squadron, when the Allies stage bombing runs against a key Axis fuel refinery deep in the Norwegian fjords. It directly inspired the trench run in A New Hope (mentioned below).
  • In another Roland Emmerich film, 2012, the canyon chase isn't a dogfight but otherwise meets virtually all the criteria. Gordon can't get his plane off the ground quickly enough to escape the giant earthquake fissure that opens up beneath it, leading the protagonists to spend the next several minutes flying through the cracks and skyscrapers of a crumbling Los Angeles, with obstacles that include derailed subway trains, exploding oil refineries, and falling highway overpasses in place of enemy fighter planes. They later get to do it a second time in Las Vegas, leading Gordon to mutter "Oh God, not again."
  • This trope happens at least twice in The Blue Max, once where anti-hero Bruno Stachel leads a naive young wingmate to his doom in a chase-game of progressively more dangerous low-level stunting, near tall buildings and inconvenient telegraph wires. Other films about First World War aerial combat have used this to spectacular effect; Aces High 1976 sees an aerial chase at low level lead to the destruction of both aircraft.
  • Hot Shots!: Charlie Sheen's character luring enemies into a canyon and Top Gunning them by stepping on the brakes. Yes, he's piloting an airplane. No, that's not because it's cool.
  • The film version of The Hunt for Red October has the titular submarine using the cliffs of an undersea canyon system to scrape off a torpedo dropped on them by a "Bear" that was part of the Soviet group tasked to prevent the Red October from making it to the US.
  • Will Smith uses this trope to escape the pursuing space invaders in Independence Day.
  • An aquatic version: In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana and Elsa piloted their speedboat between two large ships while being pursued by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword. Somewhat subverted because they both knew it was an insane maneuver, but Elsa misheard Indy's instructions to go around the ships, not between them.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Captain Marvel: Maria Rambeau takes down Minn-Erva in one of these in the final battle.
    • The Avengers: Iron Man takes out many of the invading flying charioteers by getting them to chase him through the streets of New York after Hawkeye notes that they aren't as maneuverable as he is.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The title character flies his fighter plane along the streets of New York just above ground level while trying to escape Dr. Totenkopf's robot ornithopters.
  • In Spider-Man 3, during the first fight between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn as "New Goblin", Peter tries to escape by webslinging into a narrow gap between two buildings. Harry manages to follow by turning his Sky Surfing glider sideways (unlike his father's, his is no bigger than a snow surf), but he has a hard time avoiding obstacles and scrapping the walls.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: On Qo'noS, when the infiltration ship sent by the Entreprise is located by the Klingons and pursued by a pair of interceptors, Kirks flies it through the ruins of the Ketha Province until he finds a very narrow space between buildings, tips the saucer-shaped navette to the side and goes through, despite the protests of his teammates. So narrow, in fact, that the ship scraps the walls both on top and bottom. Though it's all for naught since it's stopped by more Klingon interceptors on the other side.
  • Star Wars:
    • A New Hope: The battle on the Death Star in the climax becomes this once Rebel fighters and bombers get into the trench leading to the battle station's weakness.
    • The Empire Strikes Back: Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon do this during the famous asteroid chase scene. As Solo noted, "They'd be crazy to follow us." Unfortunately, Darth Vader is quite a motivator for his troops and they dive in after him.
    • Return of the Jedi: The Millennium Falcon again, this time piloted by Lando Calrissian, in the attack on the second Death Star. Along with Wedge Antilles' X-wing, they fly directly into a tunnel going through the giant space station, pursued by TIE fighters. The tunnel gets rather narrow in places, costing the Falcon its radar dish at one point.
    • The Force Awakens: Rey and Finn's maiden flight with the Millennium Falcon has them trying to shake off two First Order TIE Fighters through Jakku's ship graveyard, dodging incoming fire and occasionally making sharp turns around crashed Star Destroyers. When Finn's turret is damaged and stuck in forward position, Rey decides to go for broke and dive the Falcon into a derelict Super Star Destroyer's turbines in hopes of losing the remaining TIE Fighter in the tight corridors.
      Finn: We need cover, quick!
      Rey: We're about to get some!
    • The Last Jedi: Chewie and Rey, aboard the Millennium Falcon, draw away the TIE fighters from the battleground above the Rebel base on Crait, mostly thanks to Kylo Ren's hatred of this ship. The starfighters are then shot or crashed one by one in a chase through the crystal canyons and caverns of the salt planet, including some very narrow passages where the Falcon barely squeeze by flying on its side.
    • Star Wars Legends loves this in general. If a book has "X-Wing" in the title (and even occasionally if it doesn't), expect there to be at least one of some sort. X-Wings are actually somewhat slower and less maneuverable than TIE fighters, but there are a few reasons why the canyon trick can work. TIE fighters, with those square wings, have greater air resistance, and those pilots who haven't trained in atmosphere often don't compensate for that. And an X-Wing can turn on its side and use its targeting computer to get through a gap only a handful of meters wide, while TIE fighters are almost as wide as they are tall. As Iron Fist showed, a TIE interceptor can pull off a similar maneuver due to it having a narrower profile than a TIE fighter.
    • Though subverted by Solo Command, where the good guys hop through a dangerous asteroid field from large asteroid to large asteroid, and then the enemy battleship targeted the large, stationary asteroids, destroying the good guys due to their use of the feint. Or it would have, except one pilot remembered that particular enemy had used that counter-tactic before and managed to get the attack called off just in time.
  • The movie Stealth has the out-of-control robot plane use this trope to dispose of one of the overconfident heroes.
  • The winged flyers in Transformers: Dark of the Moon are able to outmaneuver the Decepticon patrol ships by flying through damaged buildings. Due to their size, they are more than capable of fitting into places those ships can't.
  • The final battle in Top Gun: Maverick has one of these between Maverick's F-14 and the Su-57 Felon.
  • In X2: X-Men United, lacking a conveniently placed canyon with which to perform this, Storm uses her weather manipulating powers to create one from tornadoes, giving the X-Men a chance to escape. It has the added benefit of making sure the inevitable crashes aren't actually fatal for their pursuers, but also the downside of allowing a clean missile lock.

  • In the novellas and audio dramas of the Dark Forces Saga, Jan pilots the Moldy Crow through a canyon on Sulon at Kyle's urging in order to evade TIE fighters. As usual, a TIE fighter fails evade a canyon wall.
  • During Galaxy of Fear, Tash Arranda tries this through an Asteroid Thicket with a Star Destroyer in hot pursuit, not unlike The Empire Strikes Back's scene. The Star Destroyer plows in after her, able to blast asteroids big enough to do it harm, but was not aware of the space slugs.
  • In the original novel The Hunt for Red October, the canyon used for the dodge noted in the Film section was discussed in greater detail, and it was mentioned that the canyon systems the Soviet subs were using to elude NATO anti-sub operations were extensively mapped by Soviet oceanographers during The '70s for that very purpose.
  • In the second Mortal Engines novel, Predator's Gold, Tom flies an airship at street level through a moving city to lose the pursuit. One of the airships chasing him does crash.
  • In the techno-thriller called Storming Intrepid a pilot does this. He flies down into a canyon and through an arch with less than six feet to spare on each side. The opposing pilot pulls up, thinking the first guy crashed, and the first guy simply pulls up behind him and lights him up. The second pilot later, drives out to the scene, sees the setup, and realizes that if he had tried to follow the first guy, he would've crashed anyway, and the first guy must be a sociopath to risk both their lives on an interservice laser dogfight competition. He's right.
  • The Trumpet of the Swan: "DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD."
  • Derek Robinson's novel of First world War air combat, War Story, sees a British plane chase a wounded German down into a river valley - which has telegraph wires strung across it. The British pilot makes his kill, but fails to see the wires, and tangles into them in a catastrophic crash which brings down his flimsy wood-and-canvas biplane.
  • Used repeatedly in the X-Wing Series, using canyons, buildings, asteroids, and tall trees. Whatever's available. It helps that our heroes are usually in X-Wings or TIE Interceptors, while their opponents are either in more Interceptors or TIE fighters. Each of these fighters has a different profile, a different height or width, so some can slip through a gap by turning sideways while others can't. Also, TIEs and Interceptors have those large square wings, which get snagged by the wind if they make certain maneuvers in atmosphere. Some pilots can compensate for that, some can't.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts with Falcon persuing Batroc the Leaper and his minions (in wingsuits) and getting chased in turn by attack helicopters.
  • Farscape. Aeryn Sun pursues a Harvey-possessed John Crichton through a glacier in "Die Me, Dichotomy".
  • Subverted in the Firefly episode "The Message". When this trope is attempted by Serenity, the pursuing ship simply flies above the canyon, keeping the ship in view. And when the heroes try to hide, the pursuers flush them out with saturation bombing.
  • House of the Dragon: In the final episode of Season 1, Lucerys, on the back of his dragon Arrax, escapes Aemond (who's on Vhagar's back) by flying through a canyon. Vhagar is too humongous to even enter the canyon and thus chases Arrax from above it.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Mandalorian:
      • In "The Passenger", Din is running from a pair of New Republic X-wings and flees to a nearby ice planet where he flies into the canyons present to elude pursuit.
      • In "The Siege", Greef, Cara, and Mythrol flee several TIEs through a narrow canyon in a stolen Imperial troop transport. Greef nails one, but the wreck crashes into their gun turret and leaves them a sitting duck for the other three when they run out of canyon.
    • The Book of Boba Fett: A non-chase variant happens when Din takes his new N-1 Starfighter on a test run through Beggar's Canyon, through the very same route Anakin Skywalker once passed through during the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace decades ago in The Phantom Menace.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Crimson Skies wargame, one of the maps supplied is of a canyon, with several hexes marked as impassable. Planning your move wrong so you crash into one of these can be surprisingly easy.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Altitude in Aeronautica Imperialis is rated on a scale of 1 to 9, with 0 being the ground and 10 being orbit. Seriously tall mountains can reach altitude 6, which allows for the construction of maps designed for this fairly easily.

    Theme Parks 
  • At the Universal Studios parks:
    • This is used as one of the big action scenes in Shrek 4D, with Shrek, Donkey, and Dragon going into a canyon in order to outrun an evil stone dragon.
    • Occurs right at the beginning of the Flintstones scene in the former ride, The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera, when Yogi and Boo-Boo pursue Dick Dastardly and Muttley through a narrow canyon.

    Video Games 
  • Not necessarily a chase scene, but pretty much every Ace Combat game requires the player to do this for some reason. Sometimes, there are enemy planes or helicopters skulking in the canyons or other narrow passageways or tunnels, just waiting to achieve missile lock.
  • Air Force Delta Strike features two missions where the player has to run the length of one very winding canyon.
    • In the first, the canyon is wide but has gigantic steam-rollers that must be flown past and an artificial ceiling is placed over the canyon by an inadequately explained air defense network.
    • In the second, you are the one being chased by enemy ace pilots as you make your way through it. A gigantic wind generator is making it impossible for you to fly above the canyon rim and you have to reach the end in order to destroy it.
  • Breed have the last earth-based level, right before you make your way to outer space, where you infiltrate one of the Breed's last earth outpost which is located atop some canyons. You're inevitably spotted and takes on Breed ships in an intense chase along a valley, while turrets on the top tries taking potshots at you.
  • The canyon level of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is pretty much this trope.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn features this in an FMV cut-scene showing off the Orca VTOL attack craft. In-fact, the song used in the scene is officially called "Canyon Chase" by Frank Klepacki.
  • Gene Troopers has Planet A412, a lengthy chase across a Derelict Graveyard of gigantic spaceships on a desert planet, between enemy drones and the rebels, with you controlling a turret from behind. More often than not the chase will lead through tunnels and between canyon-like walls.
  • At one point in Mass Effect 2, the Normandy SR-2 has to evade pursuers by flying through a massive debris field that would destroy any ship, the Normandy included, were it not for the skill of the ship's pilot. However, even this is a close shave; the Normandy survives, but if the player doesn't upgrade the ship's barriers, the stress placed on them by debris collisions overloads the ship's power core, killing a squadmate in the resulting explosion.
  • Philosoma contain stages set in "space" canyons, where the player takes on enemy fighters in between gorges while trying not to crash on the sides. More often than not these gorges also contain floating asteroids as an additional hazard.
  • Rescue on Fractalus! was originally going to have this be the only way to defeat enemies; George Lucas said that was silly.
  • Appears in the cinematic for a secret project in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
  • Sky Odyssey is an unusual example. Nothing actually chases you, as there's no combat in the game. It more than makes up for it in the "fly through the narrow canyon" part, which the game has in spades. In fact from the first to the last level the most common form of death in this game is usually crashing into canyon walls. Often you even have to fly through caves. To top it all off earthquakes hit frequently on the islands the game is set in, meaning you sometimes have to dodge rockslides falling down from above.
  • Shows up in several of the space rail shooter missions in Star Wars: The Old Republic, likely as a reference to some of the source material.
  • Several chapters in Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2 involve some variant of this trope. There are two straight versions involving an actual canyon run and a forest, while other chapters include two Asteroid Thickets and four separate instances of flying through the interior of a space station or similar. Combined, that's more than half the game's chapters.
  • In the original Wing Commander, one of your fellow pilots suggests that asteroid fields are great equalizers when you're outnumbered. Asteroids are great shields, and you only have to concentrate on not hitting them, while your pursuers have to divide their attention between shooting you and not crashing. Sooner or later, they're more likely to screw up than you are. While it actually didn't work out that way in the game, it sometimes does in the later games or the FreeSpace series.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Avania: Una Pennrose pursues her target into a canyon despite her own aircraft being significantly larger.

    Western Animation 
  • Cheetor tries this with a canyon that has many close pillars in Beast Wars. Even though he manages to shake off the Mooks with this technique, Megatron just plows head-first right through the pillars to no ill effect.
  • In a Season 2 episode of Code Lyoko, Aelita riding on Odd's Hover Board has to shake off a whole swarm of Hornets by tricking some into crashing over cliffs of the Mountain Sector, before luring the rest in a cavern with lots of twists and turns, further eliminating more. Helped by the fact that, as deadly and maneuverable Hornets are, they suffer from acute Artificial Stupidity.
  • The Futurama episode "A Clone of My Own" features an extended parody of the above scene during the escape from the Near-Death Star.
  • In an episode of Storm Hawks, Aerrow tries this to defeat the Dark Ace. As demonstrated earlier in the episode, the very end of the canyon is so narrow, one must turn one's fliers to motorcycle mode to get through, and then back again as to not plummet to the ground. The trick here is that, earlier in the fight, Aerrow had stuck a wrench into the Dark Ace's wing mechanism, preventing him from retracting them.
  • The series TaleSpin does this all the time, with Baloo being a master pilot.
    • For instance, in the climax of the first story, Baloo leads a merry aerial chase into the bowels of the city, causing all his pursuers to eventually crash, and he crows, "If you can't fly, don't mess with the eagles!"
    • Another episode has Baloo pull up in front of a wall in a cave. Don Karnage hits it, with the statement, "What a lousy place for a wall!"

    Real Life 
  • This happened in Real Life, as shown in an episode of Dogfights on History Channel, "MiG Alley". USAF F-86 Sabre pilot Robbie Risner and his flight encountered a flight of 4 MiG-15s in MiG Alley and engaged them. Risner shot off the lead MiG honcho's canopy, prompting the Soviet pilot to take dangerously evasive action with a Split-S maneuver at low altitude. The MiG pilot miraculously survives and the chase descends into a dry river bed. The honcho brakes and accelerates but can't shake off the Sabres, which inflict a bit more damage. After rolling over a small mountain, both the MiG pilot and Risner again race through the river bed side by side. The MiG breaks off and leads the chase to his base in China, hoping AA fire will shake the F-86s off his tail. It fails and Risner gets another shot, setting fire to the MiG's wing. The MiG pilot tries to land in desperation, but the Sabres are still after him and shoot him down over the runway. The burning MiG crashes on to a row of parked MiG-15s, destroying them all.
  • Saburo Sakai, one of the most successful Japanese aces of WWII, mentioned in his memoirs that several pilots of Allied P-39 Airacobras attempted to throw off pursuit (by him or his comrades) with this trick during air combats over the mountains of New Guinea, only to kill themselves in crashes.
  • There is at least one instance of pilots over Paris attempting to lose attackers by flying through the Eiffel Tower.
  • An unarmed Israeli Fouga Magister trainer aircraft got an Egyptian MiG-21 on its tail during the Six Day War in 1967. It flew through a bunch of canyons. The faster MiG couldn't pull out and crashed. The Israeli pilot got credit for the kill despite having no weapons whatsoever.
  • A similar event happened in Desert Storm, when an unarmed EF-111 radar jamming aircraft was attacked by an Iraqi Mirage fighter and led it on a low-altitude chase which ended in the Mirage crashing into a ridge. Descriptions make it unclear whether the incident fit this trope or the Wronski Feint. Most tellings of the story do indicate that the EF-111 aircrew had the benefit of terrain-following radar that allowed the plane to automatically adjust altitude to avoid the terrain. It should be noted that an F-15C had joined the fight as well, and was in the process of locking up the Mirage, thus breaking the pilots concentration momentarily causing him to smash into the ground. However, since the "SparkVark" was engaged longer, and was actively maneuvering to avoid getting shot down by the Mirage, the credit went to the EF-111 crew.
  • Earlier in that conflict, an Israeli Mirage III chasing a Jordanian Hawker Hunter got gun camera footage of the Hunter crashing instead of his pursuer. The pilot would have been happier had the ejecting Jordanian pilot not smashed into a wall as he ejected (pilots generally prefer their enemies to eject — chivalry, professional courtesy, and all that).
  • During the 1971 war between Pakistan and India, a Pakistani destroyer was caught in a Macross Missile Massacre. Because he had zero effective air defense, he attempted to pull this with his destroyer by hiding among merchant vessels and using the much larger vessels as targets for the incoming missiles. After running out of merchant vessels, he proceeded to do the same thing with dockyard facilities. By the time the Indians were finished shooting at him, the port and all of the merchant vessels were destroyed, but the destroyer was still afloat. While it was commented that he should have been court-martialled, the skipper remarked "one has to be alive to be court-martialled."
  • Pilots based in US military installations in California, as well as allied militaries participating in "Red Flag" training exercises out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, would train for low-altitude maneuvers by flying through Rainbow Canyon in Death Valley National Park. The resemblance of the flights to the sequence at the end of A New Hope earned the canyon the designation "Jedi Transition" from the US Air Force, and "Star Wars Canyon" from photography enthusiasts who would come to photograph the multiple daily flights, like a rather high-speed version of trainspotting. Unfortunately, in summer 2019, one pilot crashed and died while coming around the turn. One of the most curious visitors to the canyons is the USAF’s remaining fleet of F-117 Nighthawks, officially retired since 2008, but not finished with just yet; instead, these stealthy jets are used as trainer aircraft with the canyons as one of their many training grounds for new pilots.
  • Europe has its own version of the canyon run, being the Mach Loop in the Welsh valleys. Here, military aircraft from both the Royal Air Force and the USAF can be seen performing dramatic high speed runs at low altitude through the hills; it is one of the few places where planespotters can get a chance at close photography of military aircraft flying below them.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Canyon Chase, Asteroid Thicket Chase


Widow's Canyon chase

Aerrow leads the Dark Ace on a chase through a canyon with only a narrow opening at one end. The Dark Ace fails to make it through due to Aerrow sabotaging his ride earlier in the fight.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / AerialCanyonChase

Media sources: