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Police officer believed F-15 fighter jet was going to collide with his drone

PUBLISHED: 10:25 02 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:27 02 June 2018

An F-15 takes off at RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt

An F-15 takes off at RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

A police drone pilot took avoiding action after believing that an US Air Force F-15 fighter jet from a Suffolk air base was about to collide with his drone, a report said.

A police drone. Picture: Ian BurtA police drone. Picture: Ian Burt

On January 16, the officer had completed a task and was bringing the drone to its landing site in the Throwleigh area of Devon.

As the drone was descending at an altitude of 250 to 300ft, the pilot heard a fast jet approaching from an unknown direction.

An Airprox report into the incident said the police officer descended the drone as quickly as possible and when the jet came into view, it “seemed to pass by the drone at the same altitude” and looked like the jet was “within 200m laterally of the drone”.

Once the jet, based at RAF Lakenheath and travelling close to 500mph, was in view it started banking to the right and was followed a few seconds later by a second jet.

F-15 jets at RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Denise BradleyF-15 jets at RAF Lakenheath. Picture: Denise Bradley

The drone pilot assessed the risk of collision as ‘high’.

Neither of the F-15 pilots, who were conducting a low-flying mission, or the weapons system operators saw the drone.

The report stated that the police have a stringent set of procedures prior to every drone flight and that the officer had checked A Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs), the airspace, informed the National Police Air Service and air ambulance and used the Drone Assist App from NATS - an air navigation service provider.

The Airprox board gave the incident the lowest risk assessment rating of a Category E - it met the criteria for reporting but, by analysis, it was determined that normal procedures, safety standards and parameters pertained.

Norfolk Police are cracking down on hare coursing. Picture: Ian BurtNorfolk Police are cracking down on hare coursing. Picture: Ian Burt

Although the drone operator perceived that the F-15s were extremely close to his drone, the report says “in actuality they appeared to have had sufficient separation”.

Both the drone operator and F-15 pilot were operating within their regulations.

Cap Elias Small, public affairs officer at RAF Lakenheath, said: “Safety is always a top priority for our pilots, who are trained to maintain a vigilant state of situational awareness at all times.

“The F-15 was flying a training mission at an altitude of 500ft on the northern edge of Dartmoor, which is an area some distance from any notable habitation where military aircraft can safely conduct low-flying operations.”

He added normal procedures and safety standards were observed.

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