Britain’s trainee Top Guns have been banned from flying over water in case the pilots drown, we can reveal.
Fledgling fast-jet flyers have been ordered not to go on sorties over sea because a fault with the kit means they might be unable to be freed if they were forced to eject over water and landed in the sea.
A military watchdog which has to approve flying by RAF, Royal Navy and Army aircraft ordered the restriction for student pilots on the Beechcraft Texan T1 planes following concerns over the life raft, life jacket and a harness.
Defence Minister Jeremy Quin confirmed the aircraft had been banned from going over the sea.
He said in a written Commons answer: “The operation of Texan T1 trainers over water is currently minimised on a temporary basis.
“This is because as part of the aircraft certification process, the Military Aviation Authority deemed that the harness on this particular aircraft could not currently be fitted with a water-activated quick-release mechanism which would be required if a pilot became incapacitated in a sea survival situation.
“Also, in extreme cold weather survival situations, the life raft would not provide extended thermal protection period for the pilot.
“The RAF is working as a priority exploring options for a new combination of life raft, harness and life jacket on Texan aircraft, that would enable the review of this restriction.”
The ban was uncovered by Plaid Cymru’s MP for Arfon, North Wales, Hywel Francis, who pressed ministers about flying restrictions following complaints about noisy training flights overland.
He told the Mirror: “Constituents who live under the training area of the Texan aircraft have been contacting me since the new planes arrived last autumn to complain about the distinctive loud, buzzing noise.
“Whilst I fully appreciate that flying Texan aircraft is considered an integral aspect of the RAF’s training programme, I have repeatedly urged the MoD and the RAF at the very least to do all they can to mitigate the impact on local residents.”
After discovering the ban on flights overseas, he said: “It seems that the RAF’s ‘Top Gun’ school isn’t quite up to scratch – they can’t even leave land as things stand.
“This is another one to add to the long list of procurement blunders from this Tory Government and it needs to get sorted quickly.
“I’m sure no one wants to see our RAF pilots needed overseas, but at the moment they can’t even fly over the sea.”
The RAF bought 10 of the 163mph Texan propeller planes to replace the popular Tucano aircraft.
The planes are based at RAF Valley on Anglesey – home to the UK’s version of the Top Gun fighter school, immortalised in the 1986 hit film starring Tom Cruise.
Pilots who graduate from the two-seater Texan are allowed to get behind the controls of a Hawk jet – the same model used by the Red Arrows.
If they successfully complete their training on fast jets, they can go on to fly the UK’s most fearsome frontline warplanes, the Typhoon fighter-bomber and the F-35 Lightning.
Locals living in North Wales hoped the planes flying over the sea would help cut the noise residents suffer.
In a separate answer, Mr Quin said: “The Ministry of Defence recognises that while aircraft bases bring significant benefits to their local area,
the noise generated by aircraft can have an impact on local communities.
“Unfortunately, a level of disturbance is unavoidable.
“RAF Valley takes its responsibilities to the public very seriously and seeks to minimise the impact of noise on local residents as far as possible.
“Restrictions are placed on the height, speeds and operating procedures of all military aircraft, including the Texan T1, and the amount of training conducted is limited to the operational requirement.”