Often referred to in these pages Aviation and wind farms don’t mix. Recently the family of an agricultural spray pilot in the US was awarded $6.7 million after he flew into a hastily erected unmarked, unlighted and unnotified met mast. It is by the grace of God that no similar accidents have yet happened in the UK. Back in the dark days where all the politicians thought that the world would stop on it’s axis if we didn’t cover the earth with wind farms, the RAF was routinely gagged by the introduction of the MOD Safeguarding organisation. Effectively an arm of Chris Huhne’s DECC, mitigation was the order of the day and that meant the RAF re-directing flying away from wind farms. Now as training of military aircraft is inherently risky and therefore performed over high open wild unoccupied terrain, that caused a dichotomy. Wind farm developers want to build them on high open wild and unoccupied terrain. In Wales, in a major training area, a wind farm was built after the MOD Safeguarding forgot to oppose the planning application until the last minute and then decided unilaterally it would upset the developer as he had done all the application preparation. It leads one to question whether the “Safeguarding” unit was to safeguard military pilots or the wind developers profits. Before the creation of the MOD Safeguarding most wind farms were opposed by the local military airbases. After the civil servants took over opposition was silenced. Of recent years and post the loss of two crews in the Moray Firth, opposition based on the impact to radar has regularly surfaced, often dealt with by a Section 75 planning obligation stating that a wind farm cannot be constructed until the radar issue is addressed to the satisfaction of the MOD. Interestingly two of the recent wind farms referred to by the Lords in their defence of subsidy, Sorbie Hill and Twenty Shilling Hill are both frozen on this basis. Their Noble Lords are either indifferent to pilot safety or mislead by the lobbyists from the Developers. Profits before pilots?
Now quietly we have learned that many RAF pilots have been raising serious concerns and a recent article, well publicised in Australia but ignored by the AGW compliant BBC, has come to light and is produced here:
Air disaster in the making: RAF pilots have almost 60 close-calls with wind farm
20 September 2015
RAF pilots flying over Britain have come close to mid-air disaster because of wind farms on almost 60 occasions in the past five years.
A “shocking” military dossier reveals a catalogue of potentially catastrophic air safety incidents, many of them related to unlit turbines and new or uncharted developments.
However, the Ministry of Defence withheld more information on national security grounds meaning the real number could be much higher.
Last night, campaigners called for an urgent review of the mapping and lighting of wind turbines to prevent a fatal crash involving a low-flying aircraft.
The 59 near-misses were classified from negligible to high in terms of severity with 15 cases – most of them from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray – in the high-risk category.
One Sea King helicopter captain revealed that search and rescue crews were having to manually update flight charts to keep pace with the renewables industry.
He said: “Occasionally up to a hundred amendments per cycle are required to be plotted and this must be repeated on up to a dozen copies of some charts.
“If a chart is used by the aircrew or becomes dog eared that chart must be replaced and the amendments re-done.
“On average, over a thousand hand plotted and written amendments are required per month, taking many hours of work.
“Cumulatively over a period of months or years the task becomes mindless, very onerous and extremely prone to error.”
One third of the reports were made by pilots or ground crew from Lossiemouth, which is often used for low-level training flights over the Scottish mountains.
A hazard report filed in September 2013 concerned an uncharted 300ft wind turbine, adding: “It is of particular concern as it is on the Inverurie Heli Lane into Aberdeen.”
It also noted that a single turbine marked on their charts had been “developed into a wind farm with over 10 turbines”.
Others relate to temporary anemometer masts, which are erected to measure wind speed. One Sea King report said: “Over the course of a 5 day detachment to Glencorse Barracks, Edinburgh, several unlit anemometer masts up to approx. 200ft were sighted… The masts were thin and difficult to see by day, and would have been near impossible to see at night being unlit.”
Last night, Scotland Against Spin spokeswoman Linda Holt said the catalogue of “shocking” incidents represented only the “tip of the iceberg”.
She added: “What about civilian aircraft, including private planes and helicopters, microlights and gliders? Aviation impact is yet another aspect of wind energy where public safety has been given short shrift.
“The problem of unmapped or unlit turbines and masts is the result of the subsidy-driven frenzy in speculative wind development since 2008.
“We know of a number of turbines and masts where aviation lights have not been fitted, or fail to function, despite being required by planning conditions. Taken together with inadequate mapping, it is only a matter of time before these unlit hazards cause fatal accidents.”
Ms Holt said ministers had to act now to prevent accidents and added: “This requires urgent action from the Energy Minister Fergus Ewing if he is not to have blood on his hands.
“He should order an immediate review of the mapping and lighting of all operational wind turbines in Scotland. A comprehensive inquiry into aviation incidents involving turbines and masts should also be undertaken with the aim of improving future planning and enforcement and reducing unnecessary risks to pilots and the public.”
As an old, if not bold, pilot of the past and whose son is a professional pilot flying photographic and survey flights in the UK, I am happy to declare an interest. Not only military pilots; MOD Safeguarding once told me that military pilots are trained to see and avoid(like the rest aren’t?); but general aviation; that catch all for everything from sunday fliers to crop sprayers; to helicopter operators; fly around this country every day often at relatively low level and often under VFR(Visual Flight Rules) Unfortunately the weather, like wind turbines, is intermittent and changeable and a pilot can be forced low by clouds into that nether area where wind turbines push their flailing blades into the area habitually populated by aviators where no fixed intrusion should be. I am quite aware of helicopter pilots in particular that have experience of an encounter with met masts and indeed turbines. The concerns expressed by some sixty military pilots in the UK alone suggests that people’s lives come very low in the priority for profits and the mistaken belief that wind farms will have a positive impact on Global warming. That those sixty reports are but the tip of an undisclosed iceberg is without doubt.
As I say an accident looking to happen!
You may find this link interesting.