Photographer Thanked For Spotting Danger To 'Unaware' Pilot Flying Damaged Jet

Ian Simpson noticed an issue with an airborne US F-15 at RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia.

An aviation photographer who prevented further threat to a US pilot in a malfunctioning jet has been recognised for his quick thinking at RAF Lakenheath.

Ian Simpson noticed an issue with a rear engine of a F-15E Strike Eagle being flown by the US Air Force's Major Grant Thompson and quickly alerted the base on 13 July.

RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia, home to 48th Fighter Wing, said on social media that Mr Simpson had "noticed sparks spewing from the right rear engine" of the aircraft, while the pilot was "unaware of the malfunction".

One week later, Mr Simpson was thanked in person by Major Thompson of 492nd Fighter Squadron, alongside many others.

"The first wave took off for the day, and then Major Thompson's aircraft came over," Mr Simpson told Forces News.

"Everything looked fine – he had full afterburner on. As he was levelling off after taking off, next thing there was a whole load of sparks and flames shooting out of the back, probably for about six seconds."

Crew on the ground knew something was wrong, but were left surprised when the pilot did not return.

Above: The malfunctioning jet was captured on camera by Ian Simpson.

Listening in for radio updates on the plane's progress, it became clear nobody else was aware of the dramatic start to the aircraft's journey.

"He was refuelling, or had refuelled, over the North Sea. At that point, I thought, 'Nobody knows'," Mr Simpson said.

The enthusiast contacted the 48th Fighter Wing air field operations before a wingman flew behind the Major Thompson's F-15 jet to observe the damage.

Major Grant Thompson of the US Air Force thanked Ian Simpson (pictured left) for his quick thinking (Picture: RAF Lakenheath / Facebook).

Thanks to Mr Simpson's action, the pilot returned safely to base soon after.

Looking at pictures he had taken of the plane in mid-air, he said the afterburner "was going out the top" rather than "out the back of the jet nozzle".

"Obviously, if he started doing full manoeuvres, it could've been quite catastrophic."

Mr Simpson was humbled by the messages of thanks from the public, as well as RAF Lakenheath and grateful Major Thompson.

"I've been called a hero, but I wouldn't say I'm a hero," the photographer said – glad those on the "other side of the fence" to the pilots had gained some recognition.

Cover image: A US F-15 malfunction captured by Ian Simpson, who was thanked by the pilot (Picture: Ian Simpson).