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Nimrod MRA4

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The Nimrod MRA4 production line yesterday

An almighty spinning bow tie extravaganza courtesy of the MOD and BAe Systems.

The Nimrod MR2 was a successful, if expensive, maritime patrol aircraft based on the deHavilland Comet.

The first version of the Nimrod, the MR1, was originally developed in 1964 when the Comet 4 was getting on a little as an airliner design, but still reasonable to use as the base of a military aircraft. Unfortunately the MR1's radar was quickly outdated, especially as this was during the Cold War when the search for Soviet subs was vital to defence. So, they spent a lot of money upgrading everything in the mid-seventies to create the MR2 from the original airframes of the MR1s.

In the Seventies eleven airframes were also taken out of service to (try to) create the Nimrod AWACS - quite possibly the biggest, most spinniest, bow-tie-iest extravaganza of all and a plane that never actually entered service.

Cake and Arse Party, Bring Your Own Spoon

Eventually the MR2 got a bit elderly and the engines were on their last legs, so a programme was announced to replace it. After four years of looking at every available plane on the market, what did the MOD decide on? That's right, the BAe Systems option - rebuild the Nimrod again!

Basically, the intention of the MRA4 was to take an airframe that was designed in the forties and built in the early sixties and has been extensively refitted twice already, and shoehorn brand new avionics, wings, engines and radar into it. Five new heads and two new handles...

The order for these upgrades was placed in 1996, allowing a generous 7 years to bring it into service by 2003.

Unfortunately, owing to the way aircraft were built in the Fifties & Sixties and the huge amount of modifications carried out over the years, the airframes bear little resemblance to the blueprints that BAe Systems had used to design the modifications. The position of the wings, for instance, varied by up to a foot from one airframe to another.

In the end they had to hand the whole thing over to the guys at the former Hawker Siddley/Avro facility at Woodford Aerodrome who'd built the damn thing in first place.

The original order for the original Nimrod was for 40+ aircraft, 21 were planned to be converted to MRA4 spec. Presumably this was deemed a useful number of Nimrods to have: we're now looking at no more than nine (9!) MRA4s being delivered at around £400,000,000 each, which was a lot of money when I was a kid.

Mind The Gap

For budgetary reasons the MR2s have been retired in March 2010. This is before the first finished MRA4 has even been painted, never mind fully tested and the crews trained up! Apparently the resulting massive gap in Britain's defence can be temporarily covered by that renowned (and underutilised) ASW aircraft the Hercules.

When the MRA4 does finally enter service (2012? 2014? 2525?) it will undoubtedly be very good. At finding Soviet subs. D'oh!

The Nimrod is due to leave service around 2029, or 65 years after the airframes were built!