On May 25th 1982, Lt. Roy Lawrence and his RIO Lt. Alistair Inverarity of RAF 92 Squadron were sitting in their McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV (SN: XV422) on ZULU alert at RAF Wildenrath. The airbase was conducting an exercise to prepare for an upcoming NATO TACEVAL (Tactical Evaluation). It was tense in those days and aircraft of ZULU alert were, exercise or not, armed with live weapons, lest the Russians picked that day to attack.
During exercises it was normal for NATO aircraft to practice on each other. The Wing Commander of the base exercising would invite his neighbors to attack his base. I vividly remember a day at Hahn AB when four Canadian F-18’s roared over our hangar “attacking” the base. For air to air combat it was a free for all. Anyone could jump anyone in mock dogfights until one side cried Uncle by wagging their wings.
Lawrence and Inverarity were launched on a training intercept mission. After completing their mission they were returning to base when they spotted a pair of RAF SEPECAT Jaguars . Lawrence rolled into the attack. Maneuvering into the six o’clock position, Lawrence fired what he thought was a training shot. Both men were horrified to see an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile leap off its rail and guide straight into the trailing Jaguar (SN: XX963/AL) flown by Flight Lt. Steve Griggs of RAF 14 Squadron. Griggs had been busily trying to land his aircraft. He never saw it coming. As his aircraft exploded around him, he ejected safely.
Like any mishap, a chain of events led to the catastrophe. The RAF Wing Commander authorized aircraft armed with live weapons to participate in the exercise. To prevent fratricide, the Master Arm switch should have been covered in white tape. It wasn’t. To disable the missile launch system, the RIO would pull the circuit breaker removing the power. In the event, Inverarity is heard pulling the CB and Lawrence acknowledging the action prior to the engagement.
During the investigation, the circuit breaker in question was found to be faulty. In the pulled position, the slightest pressure would depress it and complete the circuit. It was felt by the Board that the G Forces during the initial maneuver was enough to do this.
At a lengthy and public board of enquiry the blame fell squarely on the crew who had pulled the trigger and achieved the RAF’s only air-to-air kill with the mighty FGR.2. Both crew were found to be guilty and punished.
Prosecutor Capt. Christopher Eadie told the hearing:
‘A Phantom fitted with eight live missiles has a capacity for dealing death and destruction which imposes an onerous duty to take maximum care.’
The Board’s final determination was:
“A breakdown of safety checks led to the pilot getting the ‘growl’ in his headset, squeezing his trigger…and getting the ‘Kill’.”
Both men could have been sentenced to jail terms of two years each under the charges, but were only reprimanded by a judge advocate .