Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth launched to intercept Russian Tupolev Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft earlier today.

RAF Typhoons tracked the aircraft across the North Sea supported by ‘Vespina’, the Voyager tanker that’s also outfitted as a transport aircraft for senior officials and is pictured below.

The MoD said that the RAF Typhoons, which are based at RAF Lossiemouth, were scrambled after the Russian aircraft “entered the UK’s controlled zone of international airspace”, please note however that at no point did they enter UK airspace.

Why does the UK intercept aircraft outside of its own airspace?

Andy Netherwood, a former Royal Air Force pilot, explained why this is done.

“A country’s sovereign airspace extends 12 miles beyond its coastline, sitting above its territorial waters.  However, there are 3 main reasons why unknown or potentially hostile aircraft must be intercepted before they reach this point.”

All airspace around the world is divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs). Each FIR is managed by a controlling authority (in this case the UK) that has responsibility for ensuring that air traffic services are provided to the aircraft flying within it. UK Airspace is divided into three FIRs; London, Scottish and Shanwick Oceanic.

“The first is flight safety. Whilst sovereign airspace only extends 12 miles from the coastline, countries are responsible for ensuring the safety of civil aviation, including the provision of ATC services, within areas known as Flight Information Regions or FIRs. These extend well beyond the 12-mile limit. Russian long range aviation often transits the London and Scottish FIRs without filing a flight plan, talking to ATC or ‘squawking’ (operating their transponders).  This makes them effectively invisible to civilian ATC and is very dangerous as airliners are also flying through this airspace.  By shadowing Russian aircraft, the intercepting aircraft can show ATC where they are, allowing controllers to move airliners safely out of the way.

The second reason is because of the speed at which aircraft travel.  An aircraft flying at 600 knots will travel 12 miles in little over a minute.  Waiting until an unknown or hostile aircraft has entered sovereign airspace before intercepting is too late. It leaves insufficient time to safely carry out the intercept, visually identify the aircraft, provide all the required information back to decision-makers, and carry out any necessary action. Russian aircraft will normally be intercepted by the Norwegian Air Force and then handed over to RAF aircraft ensuring they are continually shadowed.”

A Typhoon is pictured intercepting a Russian aircraft in the UK FIR.

“The final reason is to demonstrate capability and intent. One of the reasons Russia carries out these exercises is to test NATO and the UK. A failure to intercept would be interpreted as weakness and encourage further probing.”

For more on why the RAF intercept aircraft around the UK, you can read the full piece.

This happens often, doesn’t it?

No doubt you’ve probably noticed dozens of comments on our Facebook page saying something like ‘This happens all the time it it not news!!1!’ While this is a common occurence, we believe that its important for the public to know that. After all, if it isn’t reported frequently, how are people to know it’s a frequent occurence?

4.8 6 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Would not like to be stuck in that small tube for hours at a time.


Me neither. Wouldn’t like to be in it in a real conflict either. If it’s no escorts bombers of that size are toast. Admire all the WW2 bomber pilots who went off on long range missions without air support. No real ability to defend yourself.


Well, in WWII, according to what I have read there was method to the madness when it came to bombing raids.

To put it simply, they created a ‘bubble’ which effectively meant flying in formations that gave all on board guns the greatest field of fire possible.

Apparently that meant flying at different altitudes etc and waving goodbye to any escort quite some way from the target, especially in the early days.


I pity the poor sods who were hit by bombs from their own side during the raids. There’s a few stories of planes being bit by bombs dropped by the planes flying above them.


Yeah very common from what I read. A few of Max Hastings books refer to examples of ground crew on both sides shooting at their own planes in retribution


Yeah I’ve heard that too. Constantly evolving tactics especially when your escorts didn’t have the range. Wonder what accounted for most downed planes before the Luftwaffe couldn’t put up much of a fighter force; AAA or other aircraft?


I read an article once written by a former E-2C sensor operator who said flying in that thing was very difficult and very demanding even at the best of times.

barry white

I remember vividly when in the days of the old Ark Royal (not that thing they called a carrier that has recently gone)(wait for it lol) Watching the Phantoms take off and escort those Bears out of our exercise area only to turn around and do the same thing again many a time And a couple of times even a Helix came close only to be escorted away by our own choppers Going back to the Ark it was great to get mail in the middle of the Atlantic becouse they had the AEW Gannet who could get home and… Read more »

captain p wash

Christ Barry….. You must be Ancient mate……. I’m Old too but not old enough to have been on the Ark with Gannets…… Seen them a fair bit in my early days though. was too young to join Eagle or Ark but grew up with their posters on my bedroom wall.

barry white

Well thats a nice comment isnt it ?
I was never on the Ark i was in the RFA
And as for being Ancient im 68 and someday you will be and i bet you too will feel insulted by being called ancient as well when the time comes

captain p wash

Oh dear mate……. I was just joking a little bit with you as I remember fellow Crew used to do……. but hey ho, whatever init. Sorry to offend you mate.

Nick C

When I was in Captains were very old, now they are about the same age as my children! And I exercised with the old Ark in the early 70’s, we played Orange and had a great time for a week in the Med. Watching a Bucc going between my ship and the tanker when we were Rasing was the nearest I have ever got army coloured trousers!

Barry White

One of those days


OK here we go you two.68? Luxury-wet behind the ears. I used to dream of being 68 again. I turn 72 in a few weeks but fortunately don’t live in shoe box in middle of the road?!


You are sooooo lucky Geoff, I’m 67 this year and still living down t..sewer in a paper bag. Eeeee youngsters today….you try and tell em but they just don’t believe you!


I used to live in a swamp 🙂

Ian M.

Must have the radar cross section of a small city!

captain p wash

It doesn’t matter…. You hear them way before they appear on Radar !

Paul T

Where i live there seems to be a Regular Flight of an Aircraft with a quite distinctive Loud Drone – the wonders of the internet and Flight Trackers reveals it to be an AN12 on a Cargo Run i believe.

captain p wash

Where do you live mate ? We have regular Atlas…. (A400 M ) flights here….. They are proper Distinctive too…..

Ian M.

We have Atlas, Hercs, Ospreys and Typhoons! The wonders of a quiet Welsh valley.

Ian M.

All at 400 ft!!!!!!

Ian M.

Or less!!!!!

Paul T

Im down in Kent,said Plane goes to Doncaster Airport.


Ukranian registered AN-12s come into Liverpool every now and then. You can still hear them when they are miles away.


Just a question, when the UK does flights near russian airspace like recently, do we squawk or make flight plan/talk to atc?

captain p wash

They appear on flightradar24.