RAF pilots were forced to take action to avoid a head-on collision over Sunderland, a report has revealed.
An official investigation has shown how two Hawks came within 500ft of colliding with two Tornado fighters while flying over the city.
The air drama is believed to have happened over an area covering Ashbrooke and Tunstall.
The report by the UK Airprox Board, which investigates incidents in which the distance between aircraft may risk safety, stated the pilots had been startled to see other high-speed aircraft in such close proximity at 2.45pm on July 16.
According to the report, the Hawks were flying towards Newcastle with strobe lights illuminated after a handover from air traffic controllers at RAF Leeming, in North Yorkshire, to RAF Boulmer, near Alnwick, when they were alerted to aircraft 12 miles away.
On receiving the alert, a minute before the planes were due to pass each other, the Hawks changed direction by 30 degrees, putting them on a direct collision course.
The pilots of the two Tornados said when they spotted the Hawks two miles away they performed a “pitch-down” manoeuvre while the training aircraft climbed to increase the distance.
After the Hawks passed over the Tornados at 19,000ft, the lead Tornado pilot assessed the risk of collision as “medium”.
The report concluded: “This incident reinforces the need to assimilate and act upon the traffic information passed by controllers.
“The Tornados reacted appropriately to the information they had been given though, by their own admission, could have levelled sooner to build in more vertical separation.”
The board, which aims to assess reported “airprox” to improve air safety, not apportion blame or liability, agreed that while air traffic controllers had left the Hawk pilots with an unclear picture of the position of the Tornados, the Hawk pilots could have requested more information.
The report stated: “Ultimately, the board felt that there had been a lack of positive action by the Hawk pilots, even though they had been given traffic information on numerous occasions by the controller. “Although 500ft vertical separation would be considered sufficient in many circumstances, the board considered that because the Tornado crew were not expecting to see the Hawks only 500ft above them, they were probably startled by their proximity.”
The Ministry of Defence was not available for comment.