A quick-thinking British photographer has been honoured by a US military pilot whose life he potentially saved after warning him that his engine was faulty – after he had already taken off.
Ian Simpson, 56, happened to be taking photos of an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet, piloted by US Air Force Major Grant Thompson, when he noticed sparks flying from its rear.
While listening to flight control traffic at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk on Tuesday, Mr Simpson and other aviation enthusiasts realised the pilot had no idea there was a problem with the aircraft.
Mr Simpson quickly Googled the airfield’s phone number and demanded a switchboard operator put him through to flight operations.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Grant Thompson (right) ripping the flight patch from his shoulder to give to Ian Simpson (left) as the pair meet at the viewing area outside RAF Lakenheath on Tuesday
‘I said, “Look, something is wrong with the plane, definitely. We’ve got lots of photographs of sparks coming out the back,”‘ Simpson said.
After the message was passed onto the pilot, his wingman took a look and confirmed there was damage to one of the engines.
The plane swiftly returned to base ‘just to be safe’.
Major Grant Thompson later thanked Mr Simpson by ripping the flight patch from his shoulder and handing it to him.
‘For most of us here, this was a very rare occurrence that we have not personally witnessed,’ said the air base, which is home to the US AIr Force’s 48th Fighter Wing.
‘It’s wonderful to know that the Liberty Wing has such a great partnership with the local community – and the courage that Ian displayed was next to none.’
Photo taken by Ian Simpson shows a shower of sparks from an F-15E Strike Eagle that experienced a malfunction after takeoff, near RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk
After seeing the sparks (pictured), Mr Simpson quickly Googled the airfield’s phone number and demanded a switchboard operator put him through to flight operations so he could warn the pilot
Mr Simpson said he was motivated by the death of another young American pilot whose plane crashed into the North Sea on June 15, 2020.
‘I thought someone should call,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want anything like that to happen to another family.’
On Wednesday, Thompson said thank you by giving Simpson a cap and insignia, and then throwing in the shoulder patch for good measure.
‘That was a nice touch,’ Mr Simpson added.
The base noted the fast-thinking Brit’s actions in a Facebook post that won widespread attention, particularly from Americans grateful for his assistance.
‘For me, the most humbling thing has been the families of servicemen who thanked me for doing what I did,’ Mr Simpson added. ‘I wasn’t expecting to get so much thanks.’