Russian Fighter Jet Flies Within 50 Feet Of US Recon Plane Over Baltic Sea

Just days after the US destroyer Donald Cook had a close "buzzing" with two Russian Su-24 fighters which performed several low passes as close as 30 feet away in the Baltic Sea, the US Air Force complained about another close encounter which took place on Thursday.

According to US European Command, during a routine flight by a US EC-135U reconnaissance plane which was flying over international waters (again in the Baltic Sea) a Russian Flanker barrel rolled from the left side of the U.S. RC-135 and went over the top of it to end on the right side of the aircraft.

As CNN details, the Russian jet "performed erratic and aggressive maneuvers" as it "flew within 50 feet of the U.S. aircraft's wing tip", Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for U.S. European Command, said. The Russian Su-27 began the barrel roll from the left side of the U.S. RC-135 and went over the top of it to end on the right side of the aircraft, European Command said.

The RC-135 aircraft was "intercepted by a Russian SU-27 in an unsafe and unprofessional manner," Hernandez said, adding that the U.S. plane never entered Russian territory. "The unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries," said Hernandez, who added the United States is protesting with the Russian government.

As expected, Russia's military rejected criticism by U.S. European Command on Sunday, and said that reports on Thursday's incident were "not consistent with reality" and that the Russian aircraft's maneuvers had been "performed strictly in accordance with the international regulations on the use of airspace."

Ministry spokesman Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Su-27 had been dispatched after Russian air defense facilities spotted an unknown target over the Baltic Sea, approaching the Russian border at high speed.

It identified the jet as an American reconnaissance aircraft, and after visual contact, the U.S. plane "changed its course to the opposite direction, away from the Russian border," he said. No incidents were recorded over the encounter, he said.

For now no photos or video of the incident have been released but here is a somewhat comical artist's interpretation of what may have happened, courtesy of The Aviationist.

This is merely the latest in a long series of close encounters between Russian and US airborne forces. Here, once again courtesy of The Aviationist, is a brief list of the most recent Russian-US encounters:

  • On Jan. 25, 2016 a U.S. RC-135 intelligence gathering jet was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet over Black Sea: during the interception, the Su-27 made an aggressive turn that disturbed the controllability of the RC-135.
  • On Apr. 7, 2015 another Su-27 flew within 20 feet of an RC-135U, over the Baltic Sea.
  • On Apr. 23, 2015 a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that crossed the route of the U.S. aircraft putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.

It's not just the Russians. Chinese pilots have also come close:

In 2014, a Chinese Flanker made a barrel roll over a U.S. Navy P-8 maritime surveillance plane 135 miles east of Hainan Island, a spot of a far more dangerous close encounter of another U.S. electronic surveillance plane with the Chinese Navy back in 2001.

On Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters.

One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.