Graphic: ‘I have every right to be here’: Mid-air dispute between RAF Marham Tornado and USAF Hercules pilots training over Sculthorpe

Soldiers parachute from a C130 Hercules. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Soldiers parachute from a C130 Hercules. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A mid-air argument broke out after a US Air Force pilot accused an RAF jet of flying too close to American parachutists being dropped over Norfolk.

US and RAF dispute graphic

US and RAF dispute graphic - Credit: Archant

The 'near miss' incident happened as a Hercules MC130 from Mildenhall was training over RAF Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, while a pair of RAF Tornado GR4s from RAF Marham were flying nearby as part of their own exercise.

The US Hercules pilot felt the British aircraft were flying too close and, although not a threat to his plane, he was concerned about the safety of his parachutists being dropped.

The Tornado pilot responded that he 'had every right to be there', according to a report by the UK Airprox Board, which investigates near-misses.

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The board heard the two planes got to within around 1.6 nautical miles (1.84 miles) of each other, and were around 700ft apart vertically.

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But it concludes that both planes were entitled to be operating in the area, and that radar data proved there had been no risk of collision between either the aircraft or the parachutists.

The report says: 'The Tornado crews stated that the incident had 'negligible' severity; however, the MC130 pilot was clearly frustrated by the continued presence of the Tornados and initiated the Airprox.

'Some members felt that the Tornado pilot could reasonably have been more flexible and could have avoided the less manoeuvrable MC130 by a much wider margin, especially having been advised of its para-dropping activities and the impact that his flight (being only 1.6 nautical miles away at CPA) was having upon them.

'Nevertheless, all members were agreed that the incident was essentially one of perception; the MC130 pilot perceived that the Tornado was too close whilst the Tornado pilot perceived otherwise.

'From the radar picture it was apparent that, in the end, there had been no risk of collision between either the aircraft or the parachutists.'

A submission to the board from the US Air Force says: 'We are at a loss to understand why the GR4s chose to carry out GH [general handling] in the block 5-15,000ft in an area where they knew that para-dropping was being carried out from 13,000ft.'

HQ Air Command's comment says: 'For their part, all Tornado crews were visual with the Hercules and maintained adequate separation at all times, including to the rear of and below the aircraft.'

The UK Airprox Board said The board had already recommended better co-ordination between controllers at RAF Marham and the USAF at Mildenhall, but said it was 'heartened' to hear this was continuing.

The incident happened in broad daylight, at about 12.30pm on November 7. It has only emerged now, following publication of the report.

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