Unknown helicopter’s near collision with Tornado

A unknown helicopter came within 100 feet of an RAF jet over the Highlands, an official probe has heard. Despite inquiries the chopper could not be identified or traced.

The Tornado fighter jet almost collided with the unknown helicopter. Picture: TSPL

The Tornado fighter jet was on a training run from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and was 450 feet over Grantown-on-Spey on January 30 when the incident occurred.

The Tornado pilot was conducting a low-level training sortie and the grey camouflaged aircraft had navigation and high intensity strobe lights on, as well as secondary surveillance radar.

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The aircraft was not fitted with either True Air Speed (TAS) or Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) equipment.

The UK Airprox Board, which investigates reported near misses, heard that after two minutes of low-level flying in the Spey Valley - on passing south of Grantown-on-Spey - the front-seat Tornado pilot made a small heading change to the right.

On rolling out of that small turn, he immediately spotted a white and red helicopter at a range of 1.5 miles.

“He called it to the rear-seat pilot and simultaneously initiated a turn to the right, away from the helicopter,” said the report.

“He continued with commentary on its position as it passed down the left-hand side; the rear-seat pilot did not see the helicopter. The front-seat pilot estimated that the Tornado had passed within half a nautical mile of the helicopter.

“The helicopter was seen to be flying a steady heading away from the Tornado track, but at no time was it observed to alter its course as it might had the pilot had been aware of, or visual with, the Tornado.

“The helicopter type was not recognised. From the video replay, the helicopter was displayed as a thermal cue at exactly the moment the front-seat pilot called visual and actioned the turn away.

“He assessed the risk of collision as ‘Medium’. Despite contacting local operators, the helicopter pilot could not be traced.”

HQ Air Command said in its report:”This incident is a salutary reminder of the benefit of effective lookout throughout a sortie.”

In its summary, the Board “quickly agreed that this Airprox was the result of a chance encounter between two aircraft operating in the same airspace.”

“They also agreed that it was evident that it had been the Tornado pilot’s lookout during his navigational turn that had enabled visual acquisition.

“At the height and position of this encounter it was unlikely that the helicopter pilot could have been in receipt of an Air Traffic Service and, in the absence of any further information from the helicopter pilot, the Board could not deduce whether he had seen or heard the Tornado pass by, or had taken avoiding action.

“In the event, the Tornado pilot discharged his collision avoidance responsibility in Class G airspace; effective and timely action had been taken to prevent aircraft collision.”

The Board official rated the incident as C - no risk of collision.