- US Air Force/Senior Airman Erin Trower
- Over the past five years, US F-15s have been involved in numerous near-miss incidents over the UK.
- Increased air traffic in UK skies has led the US Air Force to remind its pilots about air safety.
After a spate of near-misses between US Air Force F-15 fighter jets and UK aircraft over the past five years, US pilots are being told, among other things, to keep their windows clean to avoid accidents.
The UK Airprox Board, which is responsible for airspace safety in the country, has found that F-15s based in southeast Britain have been involved in 19 near-miss incidents since 2012, according to the BBC.
The US Air Force has pointed to an increase in general aviation traffic in the area around the Royal Air Force base Lakenheath, where US fighters are based. The Air Force is also noting the lack of transponders on many civilian aircraft, which means they don’t always get picked up by radar.
Almost all US aircraft at Lakenheath use ultra high-frequency (UHF) radios, the Air Force said, while civilian aircraft use very high-frequency (VHF) radios, meaning Air Force aircraft cannot always hear their civilian counterparts while in the air.
A Mid-Air Collision Avoidance reference sheet for Air Force pilots at Lakenheath and sister base Mildenhall reminds pilots that “most air misses occur during good … weather conditions and during hours of daylight” and to “Avoid congested and/or training areas as much as possible.”
The sheet also advises pilots that, prior to flight, they should, “Be familiar with and exercise caution in areas where you may expect to find a high volume of traffic” and, “Ensure your windscreen is clean.”
- US Air Force photo/Rank Name
While in flight, the sheet directs pilots to perform “gentle banks” to the left and right during climbs and descents in order to maintain visual scanning and to do clearing procedures before all turns or unusual maneuvers. “Scan, scan, and scan,” the sheet concludes.
Over the past five years, the UK Airprox Board has recorded more than 1,000 near-miss incidents, about 360 of which involved military aircraft from the US or the UK.
Among the 19 involving US Air Force aircraft was a January incident in which a military air-traffic controller, who was distracted by a phone call, misunderstood the flight path of two US F-15 fighter jets, causing confusion during which the jets narrowly avoided colliding with an UK air force tanker.
One tanker pilot said an F-15 came within about 150 feet of his aircraft before flying past, and the Airprox Board said the incident had “a serious risk of collision where luck had played a major part.”
In April this year, two F-15s over western England had a close call with a glider, which did not show up on their radar. One of the F-15 pilots spotted the glider in his flight path and turned to avoid it, directing the other F-15 to do the same. The British Glider Association praised the pilot for spotting the glider, according to the BBC.