A Royal Air Force jet was scrambled to intercept an aircraft that wasn’t responding to traffic control on Tuesday, breaking the sound barrier and shocking people across the East of England with a sonic boom.
According to the RAF, the Typhoon jet established communications on reaching the civilian aircraft and escorted it to a nearby airport.
“RAF Typhoon aircraft were scrambled on a Quick Reaction Alert operation today after a civilian aircraft lost comms in UK Airspace,” a brief statement from the RAF on Jan. 12 said. “Our jets went supersonic to reach the aircraft quickly. The aircraft was intercepted and comms re-established.”
Stansted Airport confirmed in a statement that the aircraft landed safely at around 1:40 p.m. at the airport.
Many people reported hearing the sonic boom on social media, with some posting recordings of the moment the jet’s sound wash passed over them.
“Sonic boom just now over Cambridge!” wrote John E. Walsh on Twitter. “Blew my window off its casement stay and scared the bloomin’ life out of me and the several pigeons outside!”
It’s not known why the aircraft broke communications with traffic control, which can occur through human error, such as being on the wrong frequency or equipment failure.
The aircraft was a private plane that had flown from Germany, Essex Police told The Epoch Times. “Those on board the aircraft were spoken to and all was found to be in order and the aircraft was allowed to proceed on its journey,” Essex Police said in a statement.
A sonic boom is caused by objects travelling over the speed of sound—which is around 767 miles per hour at sea level—and can sound like a thunderclap.
Unlike a thunderclap, however, a sonic boom is not a single explosion in time. Instead, it’s a continuous shock wave that fans out behind any object travelling faster than the speed of sound.
This is the reason that sonic booms are heard across such a large area: as long as the aircraft exceeds the speed of sound, the shockwave will follow in a cone that passes over the ground below as a line of sound energy.
Sonic booms created by aircraft can cause damage to some structures, and at low altitude can cause slight tremors, even shaking buildings and shattering glass.
An RAF spokesman told the BBC that the Typhoon took off from RAF Coningsby and “safely escorted” the civilian aircraft to Stansted Airport.
“The Typhoon aircraft were authorised to transit at supersonic speed for operational reasons,” he said.
Sometimes referred to as Eurofighters due to their pedigree as a joint Europe project, Typhoons are described as multi-role aircraft by the RAF. They are primarily used as part of the Quick Reaction Alert force: ready to take off at a minute’s notice to intercept aircraft that cross into UK airspace.