In 1975, a comprehensive program of upgrading the avionics on the MR1 began, including fitting the new Thorn EMI Searchwater radar, a new GEC Central Tactical System and the AQS-901 acoustics system compatible with the latest generation of sonobouys, and the Loral Electronic Support Measures System located in two new wing tip pods. The upgraded aircraft became the Nimrod MR2. A total of 35 Nimrod MR1s were upgraded to the Nimrod MR2 standard by BAE Systems between 1975 and 1984. The first Nimrod MR2 was delivered to 201 Squadron at RAF Kinloss on 23 August 1979.
The decision by the Argentinean junta to invade the Falkland Islands in April 1982 gave rise to an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) to equip the Nimrod MR2 with an Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) capability as part of Operation Corporate. In just 18 days, eight Nimrod MR2s were fitted with in-flight refuelling probes, taken from Vulcans, and stabilising winglets on the tailplane. The probes were linked to ordinary ground refuelling hoses running through the cockpit, down the centre aisle of the aircraft and exiting the cabin in the galley area to join the refuel gallery in the wings. The fitting of the AAR capability extended the Nimrod's endurance to 20 hours in the air.16 The Nimrod MR2's self-defence capability was also enhanced by modifying their under-wing hard points to take AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.17 They flew numerous patrols over the South Atlantic from Ascension Island in support of British operations during the Falklands War. In more recent years, the MR2 has been fitted with an electro-optical camera for imagery intelligence (IMINT) tasks.
The operating crew of the MR2 comprises two pilots and a flight engineer, two weapon systems officers (WSO) (tactical and route), and a WSO who is the sensor and communications coordinator and who, in turn, is supported by a team of two 'wet' weapon systems operators (WSOps) and four 'dry' WSOps. The 'wet' team supervise the aircraft's acoustic processors, which monitor active and passive sonobuoys, whilst the 'dry' team manage a range of radar and non-acoustic sensors.
The Nimrod MR2, based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, is a maritime patrol aircraft used primarily in the roles of maritime surface surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue. Carrying a crew of 13, the aircraft is fitted with radar, magnetic and acoustic detection equipment. The Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft can also assist in search and rescue (SAR) operations by searching for survivors, giving guidance to rescue craft at the scene, and dropping survival equipment if needed.
During the Cold War the RAF Kinloss and RAF St. Mawgan Nimrod squadrons maintained regular surveillance of Soviet maritime activities and supported UK and allied naval forces. Although the Nimrod's principal area of operations was destined to be the North Atlantic, its specification25 required it to be capable of world-wide employment. It was deployed regularly to the Mediterranean and the Gulf; indeed, Nimrods were even used to rendezvous with Royal Navy (RN) submarines surfaced at the North Pole in 1988. The MR2 was also involved in fishery protection in the Cod Wars (1973-1976) and SAR operations such as the Fastnet Race (1979), Alexander Kielland (1980), Virgin Atlantic Challenger (1985), Piper Alpha (1988), as well as numerous other maritime support operations. For many years, a Nimrod and crew were held at 60 minutes readiness to conduct SAR operations within the UK's area of responsibility, an area which stretches out into the middle of the Atlantic.
Under the Defence White Paper of December 2003, the Nimrod MR2 fleet would be reduced from 21 to 16 aircraft and the requirement for the Nimrod MR4A was downsized from 18 to 12. As of 2009 there were 11 Nimrod MR2s in existence, operated by No. 120 Squadron, No. 201 Squadron, and No. 42(R) Squadron at RAF Kinloss.
- 120 Squadron, RAF Kinloss - 8 Nimrod MR2
- 201 Squadron, RAF Kinloss - 8 Nimrod MR2
- 206 Squadron, RAF Kinloss - 7 Nimrod MR2
- 42 (Reserve) Squadron, RAF Kinloss - 3 Nimrod MR2
The fleet of 14 Nimrod MR2 aircraft were withdrawn from service on 31 March 2010. Three of the aircraft were sold for recycling by the Disposal Services Authority, generating receipts for the UK taxpayer. Five complete aircraft, one nose section and one forward fuselage have been sold to Aviation museums across the UK, and one aircraft has been gifted to the RAF Museum in Cosford. One aircraft was transferred to the Defence Fire training and development centre to be used for training.
The MOD suffered a sustained period of deep organisational trauma between 1998 and 2006, beginning with the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. Financial pressures and cuts drove a cascade of multifarious organisational changes, which led to a dilution of the airworthiness regime and culture within the MOD, and distraction from safety and airworthiness issues as the top priority. There was a shift in culture and priorities in the MOD towards ‘business’ and financial targets, at the expense of functional values such as safety and airworthiness.
On 02 September 2006, RAF Nimrod XV230 was on a routine mission over Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan in support of NATO and Afghani ground forces when she suffered a catastrophic mid-air fire, leading to the total loss of the aircraft and the death of all those on board. XV230 had a full crew complement of 12 on board, together with two mission specialists. This was an unusually experienced crew with two of the Nimrod Force’s most capable and knowledgeable aviators, Flight Lieutenant Squires and Flight Sergeant Davies, on the flight deck.
At 11:12:26 the aircraft depressurised. At 11:13:45 the camera operator reported “we have flames coming from the rear of the engines on the starboard side”. Faced with a life-threatening emergency, every member of the crew acted with calmness, bravery and professionalism, and in accordance with their training. They had no chance, however, of controlling the fire. The aircraft exploded at about 3000 feet above ground level.
The escape of fuel during Air-to-Air Refuelling, or a leak from a fuel coupling or pipe, led to an accumulation of fuel within the No. 7 Tank Dry Bay. the ignition source was the Cross-Feed/SCP duct in the starboard No. 7 Tank Dry Bay.
The Nimrod Safety Case was drawn up between 2001 and 2005 by BAE Systems (Phases 1 and 2). Unfortunately, the Nimrod Safety Case was a lamentable job from start to finish. It was riddled with errors. It missed the key dangers. Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency, and cynicism. The Nimrod Safety Case process was fatally undermined by a general malaise: a widespread assumption by those involved that the Nimrod was ‘safe anyway’ (because it had successfully flown for 30 years) and the task of drawing up the Safety Case became essentially a paperwork and ‘tickbox’ exercise.
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