An RAF Hawk jet flying at 420mph had to veer away to dodge a head-on collision with a gyrocopter, it has been revealed.
The jet passed within around 1,000ft of the gyrocopter carrying two people, near Pooley Bridge.
The gyrocopter pilot assessed the risk of collision between the two aircraft as being “extremely high”, an inquiry into the incident was told.
The pilot of the Hawk T1 jet spotted the yellow gyrocopter when it was around a mile away, heading straight towards him as he approached Pooley Bridge down the Ullswater Valley, leaving him just seconds to execute a “climbing break” involving stress forces of 4G to avoid possible collision.
The jet had been flying at around 300ft above ground level during a training sortie on the morning of September 25, while the gyrocopter was engaged in a pleasure flight at “approximately the same altitude ” and travelling at about 80mph – too slow for its pilot to take any meaningful avoiding action.
The gyrocopter pilot later assessed the risk as having been high, but said he had been aware RAF jets might be active in the area and so had remained vigilant.
The inquiry, carried out by the UK Airprox Board – the body responsible for investigating such near-misses – was also informed that the Hawk pilot had only seen the approaching gyrocopter at the last minute because of a known blind spot at that end of Ullswater.
Investigations carried out immediately after the incident centred on gyrocopter operators at two local airfields, but senior staff at these centres believed the yellow gyrocopter had been a visiting aircraft, of which there were an increasing number in the area.
The senior gyrocopter operator at one of the airfields stated that the incident had been highlighted to all known operators, including a wider publication of the RAF low flying chart with associated Ullswater and Windermere/Keswick aircraft flow arrows.
The British Rotorcraft Association was also contacted and agreed to publish a warning to pilots who might consider venturing into the Lake District but not be aware of the military low flying aircraft in the area.
The inquiry concluded that the Hawk pilot’s climbing break had not constituted emergency avoiding action, since a 4G turn was a standard manoeuvre for such an aircraft at low level.
Taking this into account, and the miss distance of around 1,000ft, it was felt that although safety had been reduced, the actions of the Hawk pilot had removed any risk of collision. As a result, a relatively low risk category C was assigned to the event.