Revealed: Broken boats, loss of livestock and damaged property, the thousands handed out in compensation for low flying military planes in East Anglia
- Credit: Archant
Thousands of pounds have been paid out in compensation after low-flying military aircraft damaged property or led to the loss of livestock.
A Freedom of Information request has shown that the Ministry of Defence has paid out £234,000 since 2010 for problems caused by RAF planes and helicopters.
Some of the money has gone to farmers who have lost livestock or crops. There were also payouts for damage to buildings, while in Suffolk in May 2013, £12,500 was paid out for damage to a boat caused by a Tornado.
The highest payout in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Lincolnshire, the areas covered by our request, was £43,319 in February 2011 for personal injury, listed as tinnitus and depression, caused by a sonic incident from a Tornado.
Other five-figure payouts have included £32,782 in Suffolk in 2012 for damage to powerlines in an emergency landing by an Apache helicopter and £29,805 in Norfolk in 2010 for loss of gamebirds, also caused by an Apache.
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Low flying, in which military planes travel 250 feet from the ground, is often used for training purposes.
The MoD, which deals with complaints regarding both UK and US military low-flying operations, said it took the issue of public safety 'extremely seriously'.
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A spokesman added: 'We understand that military low flying can be noisy and unpopular, but it is an essential part of operational training.
'The MoD is constantly striving to ensure that such disturbance is kept to an absolute minimum and that the burden of noise pollution is as evenly distributed as possible throughout the UK Low Flying System as a whole.'
Norfolk and Suffolk have several UK and American RAF bases.
In fact, in the most recent publically available figures, Norfolk's skies were the third highest in the United Kingdom for low-flying military 'intensity' out of the 19 designated areas in the UK.
In 2012/13, military planes and helicopters completed almost 4,000 hours of low flying in the skies above Norfolk.
In Suffolk, around 1,500 hours were completed, which ranked it as the fifth highest in the UK. Cornwall recorded the busiest airspace.
The MoD said low flying statistical information for the years 2013/14 and 2014/15 had been lost as a result of 'technological problems'.
The figures come as people living in Norfolk spoke of their fears that low flying in the county had increased, causing disruption to their lives.
Bill Moore, 82, who lives in Norwich and has hearing and balance problems when confronted by loud noise, claims his life is dictated by the noise of military aircraft overhead, which he feels has increased in recent years.
'I can't go outside between 10am and 2pm, because if the planes fly overhead I lose my balance,' he said.
'I'll go out at 7am in the morning, but I'm always home before the planes start coming.'
But Cambridgeshire-based aerospace expert Paul Eden said that modern-day military tactics meant that while low flying was still a crucial part of training, exercises were completed less regularly.
However, he said the noise concerns may come from the fact modern military aircraft are noisier than before and more likely to be heard at ground level.
He said: 'If you look at East Anglia 15 years ago, there was a lot of low flying, but what we tend to see now is much higher flying jets doing their air combat manoeuvring for longer and making a lot more noise.
'So they're a lot noisier and they also tend to be up there for maybe 20 minutes, instead of just going 'whoosh' and then they're gone.'
A series of questions about low flying was sent directly to RAF Marham and USAF bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath, but all three declined to answer them.
Only Lakenheath issued a statement, with a spokesman for the US airbase saying: 'We can confirm there has been no increase in US military flying in the region.'
The MoD also issued figures for formal complaints it received about low-flying aircraft – one for every 15 flying hours in Norfolk and one for every 26 in Suffolk.
It also confirmed:
There are no set flight paths for training by military aircraft, meaning each journey is planned individually, taking environmental and industrial hazards into account and also varying the disturbance to those on the ground where possible;
Military aircraft are not supposed to complete low-level flying over conurbations with populations greater than 10,000;
Military aircraft only carry live ammunition when training on an approved MoD shooting range.
You can find out more about the rules and regulations around low flying at www.gov.uk/low-flying-in-your-area
HOW TACTICS HAVE CHANGED
The practice of low flying first came to prominence as the best way to penetrate Soviet air defences during wartime.
However, when military forces entered Kuwait in the early 1990s those tactics became quickly outdated, according to aerospace expert Paul Eden.
'We sent Tornados in at a very low level against the Iraqis and quite a few were shot down in the early days of Desert Storm,' he said.
'At the same time, the Americans used new tactics of flying higher to great success and took down the Iraqi defences, so everyone said maybe we don't have to go in at a low level.'
WHAT IS LOW FLYING?
The military uses low flying as part of training for aircrew throughout the UK.
According to the MoD, low flying by military aircraft in the UK has reduced since 1988, but remains an essential skill for military aircrew. It allows them to train for various roles such as reconnaissance, search and rescue, and transporting troops or humanitarian aid.
Low flying involves fixed-wing aircraft flying down to 250 feet from the ground and rotary-wing aircraft (eg helicopters) flying down to 100 feet from the ground.
Rotary-wing aircraft can also be authorised to go lower than 100 feet from the ground.
Low flying is not usually allowed in areas around airports, or towns and cities with populations of more than 10,000.
LOW FLYING CONCERNS
Local taxi driver Joe Cook, said the regularity with which he hears and sees military aircraft over the city is 'bizarre'.
'I had a bar job a few years ago and my boss there got freaked by low flying planes, so that's when it first came to my attention,' Mr Cook said.
'I'm now a cabby, so I'm much more exposed to noises and what's around you. I'd hear these planes in the sky and look out the window and see that they were war planes, which seemed a bit bizarre over the city centre.
'Norwich is in the centre of a huge area of open land or countryside, if something goes wrong there the devastation is minimised, whereas if it's done over the city centre it's going to maximise the impact and casualties,' he said.
'Things need to be questioned, because constantly exercising over people's heads is incredibly risky.'