British and US warplanes in terrifying 1,000mph near miss after communication mix-up
BRITISH and American warplanes almost slammed into each other at 1,000mph after a potentially lethal communications blunder, it emerged today.
An RAF Tornado and two US fighter jets came within just 90 metres of sparking a tragic fireball in mid air.
The pilots had just seconds to realise that they were on a collision course after garbled messages from the control tower failed to alert them to each other’s presence.
A stunned navigator in the Tornado GR4 suddenly spotted the two McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles descending straight into its path, forcing his pilot to perform a high speed evasive roll.
The pilot of the £9.4 million British warplane said in an official report that he thought there was a “very high” chance the three planes were going to smash into each other.
The terrifying near-miss took place in the skies above RAF Lakenheath, in Suffolk, on May 26.
An official report reveals how a mix-up occurred which meant that the Tornado was allowed to take off from the frontline airfield whilst the two American fighters were coming back into land.
The 1,000mph Tornado attack jet was climbing from 1,700ft whilst the two F-15s, which cost £22 million each, were cursing back to base at around 12,000ft.
However, the 1,650mph American jets were then cleared to descend to 4,000ft, placing the three planes on a collision course.
A garbled message from the control tower to the Tornado meant the jet’s pilot did not know that the American planes were descending until the stunned navigator spotted them heading directly towards them.
The shocked crewman ordered the RAF pilot to “roll out and level off” as one of the F-15s roared just 300ft overhead.
Two neighbouring air bases have now been warned to tighten up procedures following the near miss, which could have had tragic consequences.
Both bases have now been told that “more robust” local procedures are needed to avoid a repeat of the incident.
The mix-up was revealed in a report compiled by the Airprox Board, which investigates incidents involving air safety.
An RAF spokesman said: “As the published Airprox report says, timely and effective action was taken by the crews involved to prevent the aircraft colliding.
“Both Marham and Lakenheath are reviewing their coordination procedures with regard to simultaneous aircraft recovery and departure.
“Many of the issues that led to this situation have already been addressed, such as improved coordination between Lakenheath and Marham controllers and the development of a revised Visual Flight Rules departure procedure from Marham.”
Meanwhile, the RAF has apologised after three Typhoon jets, which can hit 1400mph, played war games over Norwich on Tuesday afternoon.
The noisy air combat manoeuvres triggered a flurry of online messages from furious residents.
An RAF spokesman said: “We are very sorry that the general public have been disturbed by military aircraft activity.
“Unfortunately, there are no uninhabited areas of the United Kingdom large enough to meet our essential training needs.
“We have a requirement to train our crews for the roles which they may be asked to undertake.
“The Ministry of Defence (MoD) would be failing in its duty if it did not ensure that aircrew were fully competent in a wide range of flying skills and tactics before they deployed on such operations.”