Luck averted a crash between two American F-15 fighter jets and an RAF Voyager tanker aircraft amid confusion about their positions on the Lincolnshire coast.
The F15s were flying in the Wash Aerial Tactical Area but air traffic controllers believed they were in the Wash geographic area. F-15s told air traffic control at Swanwick they wished to fly in the “northern half of the Wash”, meaning the Wash Aerial Tactical Area.
But an air traffic controller understood that to be the geographic stretch of water – and answered a phone call because he believed the aircraft he was controlling “would not require any deconfliction”.
Details about the near-miss, which happened shortly after 2pm on January 5, are published in an Airprox Board report, which describes how one of the F-15s was estimated to be “not more than 50 metres away from the nose of the Voyager”.
The report says: “Immediately after passing through this position, this F15 aggressively pulled the nose up with reheat engaged in what appeared to be late avoiding action.
“The Voyager crew not only saw the engines in reheat but could hear the distinctive roar (even while wearing noise cancelling headsets), and light turbulence was experienced as the Voyager flew through the F-15 jetwash.”
The Voyager pilot immediately called Swanwick to report the near miss
The report continues: “The Voyager pilot opined (said) that it should not be underestimated how close this incident was to being what could have been a catastrophic mid-air collision.”
The Voyager, from RAF Brize Norton, had been involved in air-to-air refuelling but cancelled operations and returned to base.
The F-15s came from RAF Lakenheath, the same base as the F-15 that crashed on farmland in Weston Hills – narrowly missing a primary school, children’s nursery and residents’ homes – in October, 2014.
The Wash incident was investigated by the RAF and recommendations were made to avoid a repeat.
The Airprox Board report says: “The causal factors identified by the RAF investigation were that the controller did not effectively prevent the F15 from entering the airspace around the Voyager, and the fact that the F-15s entered the active AARA (air-to-air refuelling area) unaware that it was active.”
Board members agreed “there had been a serious risk of collision where luck had played a major part”.