We take seriously all concerns about military low flying. All complaints are looked at individually and examined in detail, commensurate with the amount of information provided.

Complaints are dealt with according to where the complaint originates from. RAF Valley handles enquiries that are raised by residents of Anglesey. Other areas of Wales are investigated by the Regional Community Relations Officer and his staff who are based at Welshpool. Complaints should be directed to - RAF Community Relations Officer, Room 2/04, New Dolanog House, Severn Road, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7DA. Tel 01938 556363.

Anglesey queries may be registered by telephone or in writing to:

Station Operations
Attn Flying Complaints
Royal Air Force
LL65 3NY


01407 762241 Ext 7869

If you would prefer, you can contact the Ministry of Defence dedicated, 24-hour telephone line (020-7218 6020) at MOD Head Office which has existed for many years to handle public enquiries and concerns about military low flying. You can also write or telephone any local Royal Navy, Army Air Corps or RAF flying station. Those living in Wales, southern Scotland or Cumbria and Tynedale may direct their concerns to the relevant Regional Community Relations Officer.

Military requirement for low flying (extract from MOD site)

In this section:

  • The need to low fly
  • The need to train to low fly
  • The UK Low Flying System
  • Low flying management
  • Operational low flying training

The Defence Mission summarises the purpose of the Armed Forces as being to defend the UK, Overseas Territories, our people and interests, and act as a force for good by strengthening international peace and security. To achieve this, we must generate modern, battle-winning forces and other defence capabilities to help: prevent conflicts and build stability; resolve crises and respond to emergencies; protect and further UK interests; and meet our commitments and responsibilities. In part, success depends on our ability to recruit and retain the best people for the job and train, motivate and equip them properly.

The Defence Mission statement flowed from the results of the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) which the Government initiated in May 1997 to consider the pillars upon which the fundamentals of future defence policy should be based. The findings, published in July 1998, provided a blueprint for Modern Forces for the Modern World; that blueprint is summarised in the Defence Mission statement. At the heart of SDR was the recognition that, although the strategic threat posed by the former-Warsaw Pact has disappeared, we are increasingly likely to face new and often unexpected operational challenges from other quarters. Risks to international stability come not only from traditional threats, like the expansionist ideals of individual states and ethnic and religious conflict, but also from newer ones, like population and environmental pressures, demand for scarce resources, and drugs, terrorism and crime.

There has been ample confirmation of the SDR's view of the strategic environment in the time since the policy framework was set up. Between May 1997 and the end of 1999, our Permanent Joint Headquarters has planned and co-ordinated 38 operations across the world, some of which our Armed Forces are still involved in. We continue to monitor potential trouble spots where tensions may boil over into fighting, and where British military personnel may need to intervene to protect our interests. One thing is becoming increasingly clear: situations can develop with little or no warning. The ability of aircraft to deploy quickly and conduct operations immediately after arrival means that air power will, inevitably, be at the forefront in most future crises. However, responsiveness alone is not enough; it must be backed up by a credible and practised military capability and it is on this foundation of military readiness that the armed forces requirement to train regularly is built.

None of the recent operations in which British forces have been involved provide any kind of pattern for the way in which future conflicts may be carried out. Our Armed Forces must be ready to go anywhere, and do anything, at any time. Their training must therefore include the full range of capabilities in which they may be involved, and must not be limited to the theatre-specific scenarios of recent conflicts. In short, we must train for the future, not the past.


The need to low fly

Combat aircraft. The most effective defence against any aggressor is to attack his capability to make war. Combat aircraft provide a substantial element of the firepower necessary to deny an aggressor the sanctuary of secure bases from which to plan and launch attacks. To do so, they might have to evade modern weapon systems developed specifically to pose a serious threat to combat aircraft and their crews. This can be in one of three ways: flying at medium or high level with support from specialist radar-jamming aircraft; flying fast and low, using ground contours to delay detection; or by a combination of the two. The decision on whether to operate at medium or low level requires a complex balance of many factors. The availability of specialist aircraft, for example, cannot be guaranteed and when such aircraft are not available, flying at medium or high level makes our aircraft - and their crews - more vulnerable to an enemy's defences. It is on these occasions that it becomes necessary to fly at low level, where the ability to detect an aircraft is reduced significantly.

Another factor which drives the decision to operate at high, medium or low level is the weather. Although it might appear on television to be a simple task to pick off a target using precision laser-guided weapons, laser energy has limitations, and cannot, for example, penetrate cloud or a desert dust storm. As a result, marking targets and delivering precision weapons in less that perfect weather may mean that an aircraft will have to fly at low level to deliver its weapons successfully. There may be many other occasions where aircrew, if they are to execute their mission and survive, may have to fly to their targets beneath the coverage of enemy air defence systems. Using terrain to evade the enemy, aircrew can achieve the surprise that contributes so much to the successful completion of any military task.

Helicopters. In combat, helicopters (like the RAF Puma, above, during the 1991 Gulf Conflict) are used for armed support of the Army on the ground and for delivering and extracting personnel and equipment from in and around the battle area. They also carry out a wide variety of role in support of ground forces and at sea. However they are relatively slow moving aircraft and therefore particularly vulnerable to attack from the ground. By flying at very low level and using ground features to conceal their approach, aircrew have a much greater chance of survival. At these altitudes, the terrain can muffle the sound of a helicopter, while the aircrew can use every piece of available cover, allowing them to approach and pass safely, undetected and unobserved. During a conflict, helicopters would almost never operate at anything other than low level. However, these techniques require regular and realistic practice if they are to be perfected, and for this reason helicopters can be permitted to train as low as ground level. Permission is sought from landowners before landing on private property. In peacetime, our Search and Rescue (SAR) forces must be practised and capable of flying at low level in the worst of weathers to effect a rescue. Support helicopters have also used the same skills to provide welcome supplies to isolated populations and livestock.

Transport aircraft, like the RAF�s Hercules, are used to drop airborne troops and supplies from the air, and to extract troops and equipment, when an enemy force may oppose ground movements. Although Hercules aircraft will never be as agile or stealthy as others, approaches at low level below enemy radar cover, using the terrain to mask its presence, will greatly increase survivability. In times of international crisis, low flying skills will also be used during humanitarian relief operations to carry out air drops at remote sites where it is not possible for aircraft to land or take off.

The need to train to low fly

Flying an aircraft must be second nature to aircrew so that they have the capacity to cope with the psychological and physiological stresses they would expect to confront during operations. Low flying is a particularly demanding skill which cannot be learned quickly in an emergency. Only through progressive training and continuous demanding practice can aircrew acquire and maintain the skills they need to cope with the additional pressures of operational flying.

Modern equipment, such as forward looking infra-red systems and night vision goggles, allows Armed Forces to exploit periods of darkness in ways that are often denied to their adversaries, thereby reducing the threat they pose. We are investing heavily in such equipment and the new aircraft being delivered to all three Services, including C-130J Hercules, Apache and Merlin are all fully night capable. Other aircraft, like the Tornado, are being fitted with increased night capability as part of major systems upgrades and, as more of these aircraft come on line, so our overall capability to carry out more operational flying at night will be increased. Realistic training at night is therefore essential to ensure that our crews are proficient in the skills required to operate under cover of darkness, and in order to exploit our technological advantage. However, no more night flying is carried out than is absolutely necessary.

RAF fast-jet aircrew are taught the fundamentals of low flying during their basic training, on the Tucano (above). These skills are developed during advanced training (carried out on the Hawk) and at operational conversion units. RAF multi-engine aircrew carry out low level training on the Jetstream. Helicopter pilots of all three Services are taught low flying skills at the Defence Helicopter Flying School, before progressing to their own individual training or operational conversion units. On joining a front line squadron, aircrew are required to practise low flying regularly in order to make sure they remain ready to defend our interests at all times.

The UK Low Flying System (UKLFS)

The UKLFS is designed to allow the efficient and effective management of military low flying while ensuring that the activity is spread as widely as practicable. It covers the whole of the open airspace of the UK and surrounding oversea areas as far as the boundary of the UK Flight Information Region, from surface to 2,000 ft above ground or sea level. Military fixed-wing aircraft (except Bulldogs and Fireflies) are defined as low flying when operating within the UKLFS at less than 2,000 ft minimum separation distance (msd). In the case of helicopters, Bulldogs and Fireflies, they are defined as low flying when operating at less than 500 ft msd. 250 ft is the normal lower limit for low flying by fixed-wing aircraft, although a very small amount of operational low flying training for fast jet and Hercules transport aircraft is permitted during the day at heights between 250 ft and 100 ft. Bulldog and Firefly aircraft may be authorised to fly down to 50 ft msd while helicopters can be permitted to fly as low as ground level.

Low flying in the UK used to be confined to a network of separate areas linked by narrow corridors; a map of this system can be viewed by clicking here. With the introduction into service of the Tornado and improvements to the capabilities of defensive radar and missile systems, a more flexible system covering the entire country was introduced in January 1979. The main feature of this system is that, in principle, the whole of the UK is open to low flying. A number of areas are excluded for safety reasons, including the airspace surrounding airports, larger airfields and certain industrial sites. We also avoid low flying over the larger centres of population and important conservation areas.

For daytime operations, the UKLFS is now divided into 18 Low Flying Areas. These include five Dedicated User Areas, one of which is set aside for use by HQ Northern Ireland and in which most of the activity is of an operational, rather than training, nature. There are no set routes for low flying but in some congested areas, �one way systems� have been introduced to maximise flight safety.

Map of the day UK Low Flying System/Low flying Areas

A completely different system exists for low flying at night, when the UK is divided into two regions by a line drawn roughly from the north of London to the Pembrokeshire coast. The area south of the line is reserved for helicopters while fixed-wing aircraft have priority access in the area to the north. The fixed-wing region is divided into a number of night sectors and flight safety at night is enhanced by restricting the number of military aircraft permitted to operate within each sector at any one time to one aircraft or formation.

Minimum separation distance is defined as the distance which must be maintained between any part of an aircraft in flight and the ground, water or any object. It does not, however, apply to separation between aircraft of the same formation.

Low flying management

The policy for, and management of, the UKLFS is determined by the Air Staff, based at MOD Head Office. Day to day management of the system is carried out by a central co-ordinating cell at London Air Traffic Control Centre (Military) (LATCC(Mil)) at West Drayton. Aircrew must notify their intention to use each Low Flying Area by giving their entry and exit times to LATCC(Mil). As well as recording the details of low flying activity, LATCC(Mil) is the allocating authority for each of the RAF�s Air Weapons Ranges and is responsible for issuing Notices to Airmen (NOTAM), and advising aircrew of late warnings and other information applicable to the UKLFS.

Although the UKLFS allows military aircrew flexibility for their flying training, there is no free-for-all on low flying. Finding the right balance between operational and safety requirements and environmental considerations is a matter of compromise and stringent regulations are applied to the planning and conduct of low flying. For example, each low flying sortie must be authorised in advance by an officer qualified to do so. In addition, when planning a training sortie, aircrew must consider a routing which causes the minimum disturbance to those on the ground.

Operational low flying training

While low flying by RAF fast jets and Hercules transports is generally restricted to a minimum separation distance of 250 ft, a small amount of activity at operational heights is permitted in three Tactical Training Areas. These are located in some of the most sparsely populated parts of the UK � northern Scotland, the borders area of southern Scotland and northern England, and central Wales. Within them, RAF fast jets and Hercules transports are permitted to operate down to a minimum separation distance of 100 ft and 150 ft respectively. The Tactical Training Areas are only activated at specific times each month, and these can be consulted by clicking here. When the Tactical Training Areas are being used, routine low flying is restricted to a minimum separation distance of 500 ft in order to ensure it does not conflict with operational low flying training. When the Tactical Training Areas are not being used, routine low flying is permitted down to the heights described earlier in this section.

Operational low flying training has long been a feature of the UKLFS. It is necessary to prepare aircrew for operational deployments and exercises overseas. The amount carried out is carefully controlled and monitored. We make every effort to ensure activity is spread equitably within the three Tactical Training Areas, so that each one sees a level of operational low flying training proportionate to its size. Overall, the volume of such training amounts to less than 1% of the total amount of low flying carried out in the UK.



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