Low-level flights

“Practice, where we will be employed in an emergency”

“Practice, where we will be employed in an emergency”

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The squadron commander stands in front of a wall.

Lieutenant Colonel S is Tornado pilot from Jagel

Bundeswehr/Sherifa Kästner

Why do combat aircraft fly so low?

Our pilots must master various flight maneuvers in order to accomplish their missions. One of these maneuvers is the military low-level flight, which enables pilots to operate under the radar and thus hardly visible to enemy forces.

How are the pilots trained for this?

During basic training in the United States, they practice their first low-level flights. Further training is then carried out largely in Germany. After that, however, the pilots need to preserve and enhance the capabilities learned in frequent training flights.

Why are low-level flights practiced over the German mainland, and not in the desert or above the sea only?

Our mission within the scope of national and Alliance defense is to protect German territory and, in an Alliance contingency, the territory of our NATO partners. Accordingly, there is no sense in practicing low-level flights in places that have a different geography. Our pilots must practice where they will be employed in an emergency of national defense.

Where is low-level flying conducted in Germany?

At the moment, there are no training areas specified for low-level flights of combat aircraft over Germany during daylight hours. However, we spread flight operations as widely as possible to scatter the noise pollution across Germany and not burden only part of the population. For night low-level flying, however, there are specified corridors.

How low may these flights be?

There are several specifications. At the moment, flights down to 150 meters above ground are admissible for a maximum of 20 minutes. In theory, the Tornado aircraft can fly as low as 30 meters, but we are allowed to do that above the sea only. In the past, it was possible to fly as low as 75 meters in certain low-level flying areas above the mainland. It would be a good idea to reactivate these areas so that our pilots are able to confidently control their aircraft even in very low altitudes above the land – an important part of accomplishing their mission.

Are there any obstacles that must be evaded?

Yes, the aircraft need to skirt obstacles such as wind turbines, but also certain areas. The airspace above densely populated areas and cities that exceed a certain number of inhabitants is subject to restrictions that have been imposed in order to protect the population. The pilots must also avoid hotspots such as nuclear power plants or crowded stadiums.

Do you have another message?

We need the understanding among the population why we have to practice these special qualifications of military low-level flying. We need to train where we will apply our acquired knowledge and skills in an emergency. This is the only way to ensure the security of action we need to accomplish our mission of national and Alliance defense – an aspect that is all the more important, especially in light of the current increased threat situation.


by Marvin Pflug

Air Defender 23

Multinational air operation exercise in Europe