London Rocked By Sonic Boom Generated By RAF Typhoons Scrambled To Respond To Unresponsive Aircraft

File photo of a night Typhoon departure (Image credit: Crown Copyright / RAF). The route of the B767 intercepted on Dec. 1, 2019. (Image credit: FR24.com)

Everything You Need To Know About The Supersonic Intercept And Sonic Boom That Rocked London At 04:16AM.

On Dec. 1, 2019, at approx 0400z two Royal Air Force Typhoons on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at RAF Coningsby were launched to respond to an aircraft experiencing temporary ComLoss with the ATC (Air Traffic Control).

Using the radio callsigns “5EA26” and “5EA27” the two aircraft were vectored to intercept N725SH, an ex El Al B767 4X-EAN, on its way to the U.S.

The ADS-B track of N725SH. (Image credit: Flightradar24.com)

The two fighters accelerated to supersonic speed to reach the B767 that failed to respond to the ATC calls and the loud bang generated by the Typhoons could be clearly heard in London metropolitan area. CCTVs recorded the moment the two jets “broke” the sound barrier:

As per SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in the UK, the Typhoons were supported by a Voyager tanker (ZZ334) launched from RAF Brize Norton as TTN701.

After radio comms were re-established the two Typhoons were cleared to return to RAF Coningsby and end their Sunday early morning mission.

The following video shows how RAF Typhoons respond to this kind of incidents.

COMLOSS events are more frequent than one might believe: according to NATO, loss of communications of civilian airliners with civilian air traffic controllers is the main reason for Alliance to launch alert fighter aircraft.

In 2018, Allied Air Command via the Combined Air Operation Centres (CAOCs) received more than 900 reports from the Nations about incidents where radio communications between a civilian airliner and civilian air traffic controllers had been lost. In almost one in ten of these incidents, Allied fighter aircraft on QRA are launched under NATO Air Policing procedures to fly up to the COMLOSS aircraft to verify the situation and visually provide instructions to the pilot to re-establish radio communications with the responsible ATC agency: indeed, since Sept. 11, 2001, COMLOSS has become a very serious security problem since controllers are unable to distinguish between simple communication failures and potentially dangerous reasons. On average NATO launches their fighters six times a month to respond to reported COMLOSS events. But what is quite striking is the fact that more 75 percent of the COMLOSS incidents is caused by human errors, just 15 percent is caused by technical reasons and 10 percent remain unknown. While launching QRA aircraft in response to such events is a training opportunity for both the aircrews and the air defense controllers, this activity may be a burden on the budget allocated to the military. For this reason, NATO and EUROCONTROL have created a joint task force for COMLOSS whose aim is to implement measures to reduce the human error by means of a campaign with airlines and air traffic controllers to highlight best practices and procedures and to create awareness among these communities.

I’ve often reported about COMLOSS events, especially those in Italy, where the rate of occurrences has been concerning in certain periods. Here are just a few examples:

Dealing with sonic booms generated by interceptors on QRA they are nothing special: fighters need to intercept the civilian aircraft experiencing a loss of communication in the shortest time possible and to reach their “target” they can be cleared to perform a supersonic intercept “breaking” the sound barrier in the process. Supersonic intercepts are routine, when needed, all around the world. However, depending on the time of the day, period, region, etc, they can send the local media into a frenzy, especially after emergency agencies telephone switch boards start receiving reports of a large bang or “explosion”. However, as I commented in a past article about an Italian Air Force supersonic scramble:

Nothing special then, just “the sound of freedom”…



About David Cenciotti 3888 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.