Four RAF F-35Bs passed within 600 feet of a civilian helicopter over Norfolk report to rapid near miss finds
- A flight of four F-35B aircraft was on a training exercise of RAF Marham
- A report from the UK’s Airprox Investigation Board investigated a near miss
- One of the jets flew right over a civilian helicopter and within 600 ft
- The Airprox board praised the civilian crew for reducing the risk of a crash
Four RAF F-35B fighter jets came within 600 feet of a helicopter flying over Norfolk during a training exercise.
The helicopter pilot reported that the RAF jets were flying dangerously and claimed that one of the £80 million jets flew directly overhead from just 300 feet away.
The helicopter’s copilot noted that its anti-collision TCAS system registered a jet that had passed within 500 feet of a collision.
However, one of the military jets did not see the helicopter and an investigation report found that the F-35s are not equipped with the vital anti-collision system.
Radar returns from the day the RAF jets approached from behind the helicopter at more than twice the speed of the civilian aircraft.
A flight of four RAF F-35B aircraft, similar to this one, was involved in a near miss involving a civilian Augusta Westland AW-139 helicopter over Norfolk
A report from the UK’s Airprox Board showed how one of four F-35 jets passed directly above the helicopter
The Airprox Board launched an investigation after receiving a report from the pilot of the Augusta Westland AW-139 helicopter claiming that the actions of the F-35 pilots were ‘inappropriate’.
According to the report, the helicopter pilot estimated the collision risk as ‘high’.
The AW-139 pilot had been warned by air traffic control that the military jets were in the area, giving him time to scan the sky to spot three of the four jets. As a result, he descends from 3,000 feet to 2,700 feet and then to 2,500 feet, to reduce the risk of a collision.
He claimed the first jet passed about a mile in front of him, but the second flew right over your head.
The pilot was able to visually track the third jet, but did not see the fourth and final jet.
The Airprox board noted that Covid-19 restrictions have led to a reduction in the number of controllers available, which will now be addressed during busy periods.
During interviews with the military air traffic controllers of RAF Marham it appeared that they work with ‘degraded equipment’.
The British Airprox board received this image from military air traffic controllers at the time of the incident. The board noted that the military controllers were working with “degraded equipment” that is “prone to interference and clutter”
According to the report, ‘The honest controller assessment highlights the challenges controllers face and the tendency for cognitive errors to manage complex situations, with sometimes degraded equipment.
“The Watchman radar is susceptible to interference and noise, especially during that week’s weather.”
The report noted that the F-35 is equipped with “many sensors that humans pick up on potential conflicts in the sky.”
However, the fifth-generation jets “were able to pick up the AW-139, albeit late.”
The Airprox board has instructed all F-35 pilots to read the contents of their report on the incident “as a case study to help improve awareness of the importance of lookout, as well as the ongoing need to follow good flying practices.”
The experts concluded: ‘The crew of the AW139 is to be commended for their lookout and proactive actions to help reduce the risk of collision; without this maneuver, the CPA would have been significantly closer.
‘The pilot of’ [F35 #2] well done to pass on traffic information to the rest of the formation, further reducing the chance of conflicts.’
Despite the advanced sensors on board the F-35 B, they are not equipped with the TCAS anti-collision technology.
A military member of the Airprox Board told his colleagues, “The highly dynamic flight profiles of military fast jets created a myriad of problems related to the TCAS operation.
“The maximum closing speeds and ascent and descent speeds of the TCAS could easily be exceeded and activity in the formation invariably caused nuisance alarms, which affected the pilot’s sensitivity to the alarms themselves.”