RAF Stealth Fighter’s Near Miss with Illegally Flown Drone

An RAF F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jet narrowly avoided a collision with a drone flying at an illegal altitude over Norfolk, according to an official report from the UK Airprox Board (UKAB). The incident, which reportedly occurred on February 14, is believed to be the highest recorded near miss between an RAF aircraft and a drone.

Drone Incident Details

The close call took place about eight miles east of Norwich just before 1pm, with the F-35 travelling at nearly 290mph when the drone appeared just 300ft from its left nose. The pilot, accompanied by an instructor in a second F-35, later assessed the chances of a as ‘high'.

The drone was supposedly being flown at 14,460ft, more than 36 times the height limit for such devices. The pilot initially mistook the drone for another aircraft in the distance but quickly realized they were on a rapidly converging flightpath. The F-35 had little time to maneuver, and the drone remained in view for up to five seconds before passing to the left of the aircraft.

Drone Identification and Radar Detection

The drone went undetected by radar, resulting in a very late visual acquisition. A of onboard video from helmet-mounted cameras suggested the device was a quadcopter-style drone, similar in silhouette to a Phantom drone made by Chinese company DJI.

Pilot's Experience and Aviation Experts' Warnings

The RAF pilot encountered the drone while on a first ‘live sortie' to learn how to operate the F-35. Aviation experts have long cautioned about the dangers posed by drones being sucked into jet engines or crashing into cockpits.

Drone Regulations and Modifications

Modern drones sold to the public have software that limits their height to the legal maximum of 400ft. However, this restriction can be bypassed using software patches purchased online. Operators can also extend the drones' range by adding extra batteries.

RAF Response

An RAF spokesman emphasized the importance of essential flying training across the UK and the significant threat drones can pose to aircraft safety. The spokesman also encouraged drone users to operate their devices responsibly and legally.

The near miss between the RAF F-35 and the supposedly illegally flown drone highlights the ongoing challenges and dangers posed by unauthorized drone use in UK airspace. As continues to advance and become more accessible, it is crucial for operators to adhere to regulations and for authorities to enforce these rules to ensure the safety of both military and civilian aircraft.

Additionally, while the incident report suggests a drone was involved, the extreme altitude and speed at which it was reportedly flying raise questions about the accuracy of this assessment, as such capabilities are not typical of most commercially available drones. In many cases the ‘drone' was in fact a balloon, bird, or plastic bag.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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