Military jets 'need warning system to avoid collisions'

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The Independent Online
A new warning system is needed to ensure that collisions involving military jets on exercises are avoided, according to the report on an accident which killed a helicopter pilot and his passenger, writes Christian Wolmar.

The report says that the crash between an RAF Tornado on manoeuvres and an Augusta Bell helicopter which was inspecting a pipeline near Kendal in Cumbria was unavoidable because neither pilot saw the other aircraft in time to avoid colliding. Indeed, the Tornado pilot thought that he had hit a flock of birds. The helicopter pilot, Robert Reid, and his observer, Alan Tucker, died when the aircraft plunged about 400ft to the ground.

The crash, on 23 June last year, occurred in good weather in unrestricted air space, which means that pilots are under a duty to watch for other aircraft under a procedure known as 'see and avoid'. However, the report says that pilots of aircraft at high speeds, like the Tornado which was travelling at 480mph, are unable to see aircraft in time to take avoiding action. It paints a picture which suggests that users of this uncontrolled airspace are playing a game of Russian roulette in which accidents are inevitable as it is impossible for pilots to prevent them.

The report recommends that the Ministry of Defence should commission an inquiry into whether the use of 'see and avoid' as the primary means of collision avoidance is safe.

Report on accident involving Royal Air Force Tornado GRI, ZG754 and Bell 206B JetRanger III, G- BHYW, at Farleton Knott, near Kendal, Cumbria, on 23 June 1993. Department of Transport Air Accidents Investigation Branch; pounds 23.

Two airmen were rescued from the North Sea yesterday after being forced to eject from their RAF Tornado F3 fighter jet.

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