Fighter jets and tanker came close to “catastrophic mid-air collision” which could have claimed lives of 13 crew

An F-15 Strike Eagle based at RAF Lakenheath. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

An F-15 Strike Eagle based at RAF Lakenheath. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY - Credit: Submitted

Two F15 fighter jets from RAF Lakenheath narrowly avoided a 'catastrophic mid-air collision' with a flying tanker over the North Sea.

Two F15 fighter jets flew at close proximity to a Voyager tanker in January 2017.

Two F15 fighter jets flew at close proximity to a Voyager tanker in January 2017. - Credit: Archant

A report by the UK Airprox Board, which investigates near misses, says an RAF Voyager and an F15 flew within 50 metres of each other on January 5.

It said the Voyager had completed air-to-air refuelling with a pair of RAF Typhoons before heading westward, when they were warned with a traffic alert of two jets heading in their direction.

The single-seat F15s departed from RAF Lakenheath and were estimated to be 3.5 miles away and roughly 3,500ft below as they approached the tanker.

The Voyager crew made the decision to make a right turn and head north. As they turned one of the F15s passed above and behind the tanker while the second passed no more than 50m away from its nose.


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The pilot described the incident as being close to a 'catastrophic mid-air collision'. Voyagers carry an 11-strong crew.

An RAF investigation found the air traffic controllers, one being a trainee under supervision, 'did not effectively prevent the F15 from entering the airspace around the Voyager' and the F15s were unaware that the air-to-air refuelling area was active.

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'The investigation also identified that there was confusion among several parties over the naming of certain airspace areas,' it added.

'When the F15s requested to operate in the 'Wash' and 'Northern half of the Wash' the controllers assumed that they were referring to the geographic Wash rather than the Wash Aerial Tactics Area (ATA).'

It said 15 recommendations have been made to prevent a reoccurrence of this type of incident, including a review on airspace names.

In the board's discussions of the incident, members said 'there had been a serious risk of collision where luck had played a major part'.

They concluded that there were a number of contributory factors: the controllers did not issue timely traffic information with one controller being distracted from a heavy workload.

The board also concluded that there had been a misunderstanding between the F15 crews and both controllers regarding the F15 planned operating area.

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