Squadron Service

The first Nimrod MR.1 (XV230) was delivered to 236 OCU at RAF St Mawgan on October 2nd 1969, and the aircraft entered service with 201 Squadron at RAF Kinloss in the summer of 1970. Eventually there were five front-line squadrons plus the OCU. Of these, 42 Squadron and 236 OCU were at RAF St Mawgan, 120, 201 and 206 Squadrons were at RAF Kinloss and 203 Squadron was based in Malta.

The Nimrod's first overseas flight occured on October 27th 1969, when a crew flew to Gibraltar.

The first detection of a submerged Soviet nuclear submarine by the RAF occured on August 30th 1970, when a Nimrod flying out of RAF St Mawgan located a "November"-class hunter-killer. The sonar operator who located it was Al Thomas, who retired from the RAF in 2003 with the rank of Squadron Leader.

The first R.1 (XW664) was delivered to No 51 Squadron at RAF Wyton on July 7th 1971. It did not fly again for over two years while mission equipment was installed. It flew its first operational mission on May 3rd 1974. XW665 became operational in August 1974, and XW666 in January 1975. They replaced three Comet C.2Rs. 51 Squadron also operated MR.1 XZ283 between 1976 and 1978, probably as a training aircraft.

The Nimrod first entered the Fincastle Competition in 1971. Nimrod crews on the MR.1 won the Fincastle Trophy (as it was later known) in 1973 (Edinburgh), 1974 (Whenuapai), 1975 (Greenwood), 1976 (Kinloss) and 1977 (Edinburgh).

A 201 Squadron crew conducted Nimrod's first SAR tasking in November 1971, a role which would become increasingly important.

The Nimrod's first real taste of semi-hostile operations began in 1973 with the so-called "Cod Wars" (Operation "Dewey" to the MoD), a dispute between Britain and Iceland over fishing rights that saw a number of British nets cut and the subsequent deployment of a number of Royal Navy warships and tugs to protect the British trawlers. Nimrod crews kept an airborne watch on proceedings right up until the point on December 1st 1976 where the British government conceded defeat and agreed that British vessels would no longer fish within the disputed waters.

On December 27th 1974 Nimrod XV255 evacuated thirty-eight British subjects from Darwin, northern Australia, to Singapore in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy.

There were many less well publicised operations, such as anti-piracy patrols of the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea. and Operation "Back Scratch" which was used to calibrate the then top secret SOSUS chain of listening devices laid on the ocean floor.

In 1977 saw the start of Operation "Tapestry", the routine monitoring of North Sea oil installations.

Number 203 Squadron was disbanded on December 31st 1977. This freed up airframes for conversion to AEW aircraft.

On August 14th 1979 the Fastnet race encountered a Force 11 storm between Land's End and Fastnet in southern Ireland. 136 people were rescued in the largest (at the time) peacetime rescue operation ever mounted. Without the Nimrod's ability to locate vessels in distress and direct helicopters to provide assistance, the death toll could well have been higher than the 15 lives which were lost.

XV236, the first aircraft converted to Mk.2 standard, arrived at RAF Kinloss on August 23rd 1979.

In March 1980 the Alexander Kielland, a drilling unit used to accommodate oil rig workers, capsized in the Ekofisk area of the North Sea. The search for survivors continued for seven days, with Nimrods tasked in both search and co-ordination duties. More than 80 ships and 20 helicopters were involved in the rescue effort, but 123 lives were lost.

On November 17th 1980 Nimrod MR.2 XV256 took off from RAF Kinloss at 07:30 with 20 crew on board. At an altitude of 20ft it flew through a large flock of seabirds. No 1 engine surged violently and Nos 2 and 3 lost thrust. With only one engine left, the pilot, Flt Lt Noel Anthony RAAF, ordered full power and raised the undercarriage, but it was soon clear that he would have to attempt a controlled crash landing. Less than 30 seconds after takeoff the aircraft came down in trees 1300ft from the end of the runway and burst into flames. Flt Lt Noel Anthony and the co-pilot, Flying Officer Steve Belcher, were both killed but the other 18 on board survived. To mark their sacrifice, Flt Lt Anthony and Flying Officer Belcher were posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross and the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air respectively.

On February 12th 1982 eight Nimrods provided 40 hours of top cover when the Greek tanker Victory broke in two 1290km west of Lands End.

Nimrods saw action during the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982 (Operation Corporate).

On April 6th 1982 two MR.1s from 42 Squadron (XV244 Crew 1, captained by Flt Lt Smith & XV258 Crew 4, led by Flt Lt Norris), arrived at Ascension Island and formed the first permanent detachment there.

On April 7th, Flt Lt Turnbull and Crew 8 aboard XV258 carried out a six-hour search for Argentine surface vessels and submarines, and also acted as a communications link between submerged RN nuclear submarines and Northwood.

The first MR.2 to arrive on Ascension was the non-probe-equipped XV230 on April 13th, and four days later XV255 joined it from Kinloss. The first MR.2 mission was flown by XV230 on April 15th which dropped the secret orders for Operation Paraquat (the retaking of South Georgia) to HMS "Antrim".

Meanwhile, urgent modifications were carried out on Nimrods to fit them with ex-Vulcan air refuelling probes, a version then designated MR.2P. The MR.2P was also given the ability to carry Sidewinder AAMs, Stingray torpedoes, AGM-84A Harpoon ASMs, and 1000lb iron and cluster bombs. In the event, none of these weapons was actually used in action.

XV229 made the first flight with just the AAR probe installed on April 27th 1982; this was enough to allow crew training to be carried out. The actual fuel plumbing was very much a jury-rigged affair, but it allowed probed MR.2s to fly missions lasting up to 19 hours, refuelling from Victor tankers.

Sidewinders on Nimrod XV234 Nimrod XV234 with Stingray and Harpoon
Nimrod MR.2P XV234 showing Sidewinders, Stingray and Harpoon

XV227 was the first MR.2P to reach Ascension Island on May 7th. It made its first operational flight on 9th May with a 206 Squadron crew, supported by three Victor tankers, of 12 hours 45 minutes duration, covering 2750 miles. The purpose of this mission was to provide anti-submarine cover for British ships approaching the Falklands.

On May 19th Sq Leader Cowan and crew from No 201 squadron took off from Ascension in XV232. After two in-flight refuellings the aircraft flew to a point about 150 miles north of Port Stanley, headed west until it was some 60 miles off the coast of Argentina, then turned north-east to fly parallel with the coast. Flying at an altitude between 7000 and 12000ft in daylight the aircraft was extremely vulnerable, and the Sidewinder fit was not yet available. The Nimrod arrived back at Ascension after a third refuelling after 19 hours and 5 minutes, having covered a distance of more than 8300 miles.

On May 21st XV232 (flown by Crew 5 from 206 Squadron) set a new distance record of 8453 miles on an 18 hr 50 min mission to search for enemy warships at sea before the landing assault at San Carlos. This remains the longest-distance operational reconnaissance mission ever flown.

On May 26th 1982 XV229 made its first flight equipped with Sidewinders; on May 28th the installation was released for service use. On May 31st XV232 was returned to the RAF having had the Sidewinder pylon installed. Six other Nimrods had been fitted with it by the end of June 1982.

On June 5th XV232 returned to Ascension. It was the only Sidewinder-equipped aircraft used during the conflict. Other Sidewinder-equipped aircraft were XV234, XV239 and XV248.

The last Corporate mission was flown from Ascension by XV234 on August 17th, which then returned to Kinloss on August 19th 1982 via Gibraltar. It was operated by No 201 Squadron Crew 1, commanded by Flt Lt Moncaster.

Nearly 150 missions were flown during the nine-week operation. After the end of the conflict all MR.2s were brought up to MR.2P standard; the "P" suffix was eventually dropped.

Nimrod R.1 XW664 also took part in Operation Corporate after being fitted with a refuelling probe. Missions were flown from southern Chile, a fact that was kept very secret at the time. Eventually the other two R.1 aircraft also received probes.

On November 18/19th 1983 a Nimrod flew non-stop from the Falklands to RAF Kinloss.

On January 23rd 1984 a No 206 Squadron Nimrod flew non-stop from the Falklands to RAF Brize Norton. The 8050 mile flight took 17hr 15min.

On June 3rd 1984 MR2 XV257 took off on an exercise Search and Rescue (SAR) sortie from its base at RAF St Mawgan. It was carrying in the bomb bay, as part of the SAR equipment, a normal load of 5 inch reconnaissance flares. In accordance with normal practice, the first navigator switched the flare's release units to live shortly after take-off. Some 30 seconds later a cockpit indicator warned the crew of a fire in the bomb bay. The captain immediately instructed the co-pilot to fly the aircraft back to base while he transmitted a MAYDAY call and informed the rest of the crew.

During the return flight ground witnesses saw the Nimrod trailing smoke, with several burning flares, a parachute and other objects falling from the aircraft. The aircraft landed safely. Although the fire services quickly extinguished the intense fire, the aircraft suffered Category 5 damage, including a breached pressure hull and the loss of the Green hydraulic system following the melting of alloy pipe unions. It was repaired sufficiently for a one-way flight to Woodford on November 7th 1985. It was stored in the open until the scrap merchants broke it up March 24/25th 1993.

The accident was deemed to have been caused by a reconnaissance flare becoming detached from its carrier and subsequently igniting in the bomb bay. How it came to be released could not be positively determined. Five-inch flares were temporarily withdrawn from use, pending the results on an investigation into their satefy. Once it was established that the flares were safe, they were reintroduced into service, but could only be fused unless the bomb bay doors were already open. (See the accident report summary.)

In October 1984 a crew from No 42 Squadron won the Fincastle Trophy at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia.

In December 1984 a No 201 Squadron Nimrod flew from Kinloss to the Falklands and back in 38hr 30min.

On August 29th 1985 Nimrod XV229 of No 42 Squadron located the wrecked Virgin Atlantic Challenger in the eastern Atlantic, and assisted in the rescue of its crew.

In August 1985 Operation Tapestry, the surveillance of North Sea oil rigs, ended.

A 120 Squadron crew flying MR.2 XV249 won the Fincastle Trophy on November 22nd 1986. The competition was based at RAAF Edinburgh. A Nimrod crew also won the Trophy the following year, operating from CFB Greenwood.

In June 1988 two Nimrods of 120 Squadron conducted a 14-hour low-level operation at the North Pole, refuelling twice from VC.10s of 101 Squadron. The mission was to support two RN nuclear submarines which had surfaced at the Pole.

On July 6th 1988 the Piper Alpha gas rig in the North Sea about 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen caught fire and exploded, killing 167 men. Nimrod MR.2 XV228 was launched by the duty SAR crew, which was crew 8 from No 206 Squadron captained by Sqn Ldr Garfield Porter. The first pilot was Canadian exchange officer Maj Gary Barth and the Air Electronics Officer was Flt Lt George Woodhouse. The massive fireball created by the first explosion could be seen by the crew, even though the aircraft was 80 miles away from the rig. Crew 8 flew for a total of 8hrs 35 mins, until being relieved by another crew from 206 Squadron.

On August 11th 1988 a 201 Squadron Nimrod was scrambled to assist a Cessna which was seriously off-course between Greenland and Iceland. The Nimrod guided the Cessna until it ditched near Weather Station Lima.

A No 42 Squadron crew won the Fincastle Trophy in June 1990, operating out of CFB Greenwood.

In July 1990 the 28-man crew of a No 51 Squadron Nimrod R.1 claimed a world record by reaching a cumulative total of 266569 hours in the air.

Two weeks after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, three 120 Squadron MR.2s flew into the civilian airport at Seeb in Oman. Nos 42 and 206 Squadrons were also involved. The Nimrods flew two sorties each day, passing information on the surface picture to US Navy carriers in the region. The aircraft received some modifications, including a self-defence suite and a FLIR turret. From 10th September onwards the activities of the Nimrod force extended into the Gulf, where the aircraft carried out three tasks: the defensive surveillance of Coalition ships in the northern Gulf, the tactical direction of Sea Skua missiles fired from Lynx helicopters, and the maintenance of SAR cover.

All three R.1s were deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus during August 1990. Two of them later operated from somewhere in the Gulf theatre (apparently not Seeb). As usual, the nature of their operations was not revealed, but they would have been gathering intelligence about Iraqi radar and other electronic systems.

From mid-August 1990 to mid-January 1991 the MR.2s intercepted and challenged over 6500 ships. During Desert Storm itself they flew 86 combat sorties. After the conflict it emerged that Nimrods had used a towed radar decoy (the GEC-Marconi Ariel) during missions over the Gulf.

XV244 carried "Battle Star 42" artwork and was adorned with 14 mission symbols and four ship 'kill' markings.

In October 1990 a crew from No 42 Squadron flying MR.2 XV240 won the four-nation Fincastle Trophy. The competition was based at CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia, Canada.

A crew from No 120 Squadron won the 1992 Fincastle Trophy. The competition was based at RAF Kinloss.

At the end of September 1992 the Nimrod Operational Training Unit moved from RAF St Mawgan to RAF Kinloss, and No 42 Squadron was disbanded. It was later re-established as the shadow squadron of the Nimrod OCU.

Four Nimrods were withdrawn and placed in storage on October 1st 1992, bringing the force down to 26 aircraft.

In September 1992 Nimrods deployed to Sigonella in Italy to assist in the UN blockade of Serbia and Montenegro (operation Sharp Guard). This duty was shared with US Navy and Portuguese Air Force P-3 Orions.

The R.1 fleet flew intelligence-gathering missions against the Bosnian Serb air defence system. They may have operated out of the UK on these missions.

The Nimrod's 25th anniversary was celebrated by RAF Kinloss on November 11th 1994, when the station was awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace. 120 Squadron was also presented with the Wilkinson Battle of Britain Sword for Tactics.

After fourteen accident-free years, there were two in 1995. R.1 XW666 ditched in the Moray Firth on 16th May, when No 4 engine suffered a mechanical failure, which caused a turbine blade to puncture the No 2 fuel tank. This caused fuel to enter the space between the tank and the engine bay titanium fire wall where it ignited, starting a fire which could not be suppressed.

Captained by Flt Lt Art Stacey, the aircraft was being test-flown from RAF Kinloss following a major inspection. The engine fire began about 30 minutes after takeoff. When the onboard fire suppression system failed to extinguish the fire, Flt Lt Stacey was forced to ditch the aircraft before the wing structure burnt through (the strength of the starboard wing's rear spar had deteriorated by 25% after 4 minutes of the fire). Fortunately conditions for ditching were ideal, and all seven crew members were able to get into dinghies before being picked up by a Sea King HC.3 from Lossiemouth. The wreckage was recovered from 70ft of water. The Board of Inquiry recommended that aluminium alloy hydraulic pipe unions in the engine bays be replaced with steel ones, and also that the Nimrod's Data Acquisition and Recording Unit (DARU) should incorporate recordings of cockpit voice, GPS position and time code, but neither of these recommendations were enacted.

The loss of XW666 came at a time when the R.1 fleet was engaged in monitoring the no-fly zone over Bosnia, and a replacement was urgently required. On June 23rd, five weeks after the loss of XW666, British Aerospace was offered a contract to modify XV249 (which was in storage) to R.1 standard. XV249 underwent a major service at Kinloss and was delivered to BAe Woodford on October 23rd 1995. It spend most of 1996 at Woodford having its ASW equipment removed and being modified for its new role.

The Nimrod display aircraft and crew deployed to Canada on August 23rd 1995 for displays at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater and the Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) at Toronto.

On 2nd September 1995 MR.2 XV239 crashed into Lake Ontario during the Toronto Airshow. All seven crew on board were killed. They were Flt Lt Dom Gilbert (pilot), Flt Lt Glenn Hooper (co-pilot), Flt Lt Bernie Worthington (air electronics officer), Flt Lt Nick Brooks (navigator), Sgt Gary Moxham (air engineer), and Sgts Richie Williams and Craig Barnett (air electronics operators).

In excellent weather, with a light on-shore wind, the aircraft took off on time for its display. Upon completion of the safety checks, it ran in for the standard Nimrod display sequence which features two orbits and two dumb-bell turns. The latter manoeuvres each involved a turn away from the display line, a climb to not above 1,000 ft, followed by a turn in the opposite direction and descent, to fly back parallel with the display line. Having completed the two orbits, the first dumb-bell turn was completed uneventfully. After a slow flypast with undercarriage down, the aircraft entered its final manoeuvre, the second dumb-bell turn. It was seen to turn away approximately 75° to starboard under full power before the flaps were retracted to 20° and the undercarriage raised. The nose was then pitched up into a climbing attitude of 24°. As the aircraft passed 950 ft, engine power was reduced to almost flight idle, following which the speed reduced rapidly to 122 knots, below the 150 knots recommended and taught for that stage of the display. The aircraft was rolled to 70° of port bank, shortly afterwards reducing to 45°, and the nose lowered to 5° below the horizon. During this turn the airspeed increased slightly and the G-loading increased to 1.6G. However, the combination of the low airspeed and the G-loading led the aircraft to stall, whereupon the port wing dropped to 85° of bank and the nose dropped to 18° below the horizon. Full starboard aileron and full engine power were applied in an attempt to recover the aircraft but, by this stage, there was insufficient height to recover and the aircraft hit the water.

The Board of Inquiry, which reported in November 1996, determined that the captain made an error of judgement in modifying one of the display manoeuvres to the extent that he stalled the aircraft at a height and attitude from which recovery was impossible. The Inquiry considered that contributory factors could have included deficiencies in the flight deck crew's training and in the method of supervision which could have allowed the captain to develop an unsafe technique without full appreciation of the consequences.

On December 19th 1996 R.1 XV249 flew to RAF Waddington, where its mission equipment was installed. A major component of this is believed to be SRIM 6113 Starwindow, which was developed by E-Systems to enhance the EM intercept capabilities of the R.1 fleet. Installation of Starwindow in XV249 began on January 10th 1997. On April 2nd XV249 flew its first air test as a fully-configured R.1, and on April 28th 1997, less than two years after the loss of XW666, XV249 was declared operational.

Nimrods on SAR standby were scrambled 80 times in 1997, up 11 on the previous year. The farthest distance flown to an incident was over 1340 km

Two Nimrods and crews from 206 Squadron, together with supporting groundcrew, deployed to San Diego, California to take part in Exercise JOINT FLEETEX 98-1 over the period 9 - 26 April 1998.

XV251 departed Kinloss for Hurn on November 2nd 1998, to be upgraded to MRA.4 standard.

A Nimrod (one of XV231 and XV245; both went to Australia) crewed by Crew 1 of No 206 squadron, led by Flt Lt Simon Seymourdale, took part in the Fincastle 1998 competion, held from November 7th to the 14th at RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia. The event was won by the New Zealand team, flying a P-3K Orion.

On the way back to the UK the Nimrods visited Manila, Phillipines, and Yokota, Japan.

In 1998 Nimrods were despatched on 72 occasions for SAR missions.

In February 1999 a Nimrod provided top cover during the rescue by helicopter of 11 people from MV Toisa Gryphon adrift 170 nautical miles west of the Scillies.

Nimrod R.1s were involved during NATO Operation Allied Force against Serbia in 1999.

Nimrod MR.2s XV226 and XV233 paid a visit to the Japanese naval airbase at Atsugi from September 12th to 14th 1999.

In September 1999 a Nimrod was scrambled from Kinloss to investigate multiple emergency beacons in the Bay of Biscay. The sources were several yachts in difficulty, with many demasted.

Crew 8 of No 120 squadron flying in XV227 won the Fincastle 1999 ASW competition, which was held at RAF Kinloss.

In November 1999 a single Nimrod visited Argentina for the first time since the Falklands conflict to participate in a Search and Rescue exercise. The crew taking part had won the 1999 Fincastle trophy.

In 1999 Nimrods were despatched on 63 occasions for SAR missions, down eleven on the previous year.

On March 13th 2000 a French fisherman fishing 178 miles west of Stornoway was airlifted by Coastguard helicopter to Stornoway after suffering an eye injury. As the scene was at the limit of the helicopter's range, a Nimrod captained by Flt Lt Iain MacMillan of 206 Squadron Crew 2 was first on the scene to liaise with the trawler's crew, establish a precise location for the helicopter and provide rescue cover for it.

In April 2000 Master Air Electronics Operator (MAEOp) Paul Smedley clocked up 10,000 flying hours (maritime) making him one of the most experienced Aviators' AEOps in the RAF.

In June 2000 Crew 5 of 201 Sqn, Group Captain Stu Butler, CO at RAF Kinloss reached 5,000th hours in the air, mostly in Nimrods. Gp Capt Butler has served in the RAF since 1974 and one of his first flying tours was with 206 Sqn at RAF Kinloss. As Captain, his crew became one of the 206 Squadron crews to participate in the Falkland conflict. After a spell as instructor flying Jet Provost Mk5, he returned to Kinloss in 1993 as OC 206 Sqn and after attending the Australia College of Defence and Strategic Studies took over as Stn Cdr, Kinloss in 1998.

On August 18th 2000 Group Captain Butler left Kinloss, and was replaced as Station Commander by Group Captain Steve Skinner.

The 1999 Wilkinson Sword of Peace was presented to RAF Kinloss at a parade and presentation ceremony on October 5th 2000. Mr Rob Hadley and Mr Malcolm Ordever of Wilkinson Sword handed over the Sword to Air Member for Personnel, Air Marshal Sir John Day who then presented the sword to RAF Kinloss. Sqn Leader Gary Morgan of 120 Sqn led the Parade.

In December 2000 the Aird Whyte Trophy was won by Crew 5 of No 120 Squadron under the command of Flt Lt Roger Bousfield. This crew wwent on to represent the RAF at the 2001 Fincastle

Three Nimrods were involved in a rescue mission on March 6th 2001 after a German-registered trawler sank in the North Atlantic. Ten of the 16 crew were rescued but the other six lost their lives.

At the 2001 Paris Air Show it was announced that Ultra Electronic's Replacement Acoustic Processor (RAP) has been delivered and successfully introduced into the Nimrod MR2 fleet. Produced by two British and one Canadian company, the new processor gave the Nimrod a significant boost in its capability to detect, identify and track underwater sound sources.

Crew 5 from No 120 Squadron flying XV240 won the 2001 Fincastle Trophy, operating out of RAAF Edinburgh. The competition was held between March 21st and April 19th.

During Operation Veritas (Enduring Freedom) October thru December 2001, Nimrod R.1s were deployed (probably to Seeb) and presumably carried out intelligence-gathering missions over Afghanistan.

Nimrod XV248 & Crew 8 of No 201 Squadron Crew 8 and Nimrod XV248

The 2002 Fincastle Trophy was won by Crew 8 of No 201 Squadron under the command of Flight Lieutenant Carl Melen, flying Nimrod XV248 out of Kinloss. The normal 4-way competition was reduced to the RAF, RAAF and RNZAF as the Canadians were unable to take part owing to operational commitments. The normal 3-week competition was also compressed into one week in July.

On July 25th 2002 the final Nimrod MR.2 was fitted with the new AQS971 acoustic processor, which replaced the ageing AQS901 units. Each Nimrod MR.2 now had the ability to control 32 sonobouys simultaneously, twice the previous number. Similar equipment to be installed in the MRA.4 will increase this to 64 sonobouys.

On September 5th 2002 the first Nimrod MRA4 (PA1/ZJ516) was rolled out at BAE Systems, Woodford. This was the first time that a MRA4 had emerged from the hangar since the conversion programme went to Woodford in 1999.

Operation Iraqi Freedom saw six Nimrod MR.2s deployed to Prince Sultan AB in Saudi Arabia and Seeb in Oman in early 2003. A single Nimrod R.1 was deployed to Prince Sultan AB. The R.1 was apparently in demand to support Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) aircraft, rather than its usual passive SIGINT listening role.

Five MR.2s had been fitted with new L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical turrets under their starboard wings, and were employed to obtain reconnaissance imagery over Iraq - very different from their normal maritime patrol duties. The aircraft based at Seeb provided support to coalition maritime forces in the Gulf, including American aircraft carriers.

On April 25th 2003 two Nimrods with crews from 201 Sqn and 206 Sqn returned to RAF Kinloss from the Gulf.

On April 17th 2003 Nimrod R.1 XW664 arrived at NAS Patuxent River. The purpose of the visit was to conduct tests of a new automated electronic warfare collection system called "Project Extract" developed by Raytheon Strategic Systems. This system replaced older, manually operated equipment that had been used to perform support for the Nimrod's primary mission of reconnaissance and electronic intelligence collection.

The tests were conducted on the Atlantic Test Range and Offshore Warning Areas. Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 hosted the aircraft and provided basic maintenance support. NAWCAD’s Atlantic Ranges & Facilities unit and Rotary Wing Mission Systems provided test-planning support, coordinated the airspace, and controlled the actual flight profiles during the tests. The Nimrod flew six missions during its visit and returned to Waddington on May 4th.

In late May/early June 2003 Nimrod MR.2 XV245 from No 201 Squadron worked with a French Air Force aircraft, and vessels from the Portuguese Navy and Spanish Guardia Civil in a week-long operation patrolling the sea between Morocco and the Canaries, where small boats regularly attempt the 30-mile crossing.

The Nimrod's advanced surveillance radar proved vital for detecting the small craft. The operation required 6-hour night missions, sweeping the sea in carefully planned patterns to ensure no smugglers slipped through. The first five nights proved fruitless, but on the night of 31st May / 1st June, two small boats were detected by the Nimrod. A Spanish Guardia Civil cutter was directed to the scene, and found two 20-foot boats, carrying 57 people. A third boat was picked up later, with a further 30 people aboard. The Nimrod provided rescue cover overhead while the Guardia Civil arrested the smugglers.

On July 24th 2003 Flight Lieutenant Bill Speight MBE, a Flight Engineer with 41 years in the RAF, clocked up an amazing 15,000 hours airbourne - with more than 10,500 spent on Nimrods.

Nimrod MR.2s XV227 and XV250 were noted at RAAF Pearce on November 19th 2003, where they had arrived on November 13th for the Fincastle 2003 competition. Crew 4 from No 206(R) Squadron represented the RAF in this year's competition, having won the Aird Whyte Competition on June 17th 2003.

The ground crew supporting Crew 4 of 206 Squadron during the 2003 Fincastle Competition won the Lockheed Martin Maintenance Trophy, the first time that a UK team had clinched the trophy since it was introduction in 1999. However, despite scoring well during the attack phase the Kinloss crew lost out to the Australian team flying the AP-3C aircraft.

As a result of UK defence cuts which were announced on July 21st 2004, the Nimrod MR.2 fleet was reduced to 16 aircraft. This was justified on the basis that the submarine threat had been significantly reduced. The remaining aircraft were to take on a more general surveillance role (as they did in OIF).

On October 12th 2004 two Nimrod MR.2s, flown by crews from 120 Squadron and 201 Squadron, and supported by ground crews and support staff from RAF Kinloss, returned from a two-week exercise in Malaysia and the South China Sea.

The exercise, called "Bersama Lima", involved air and naval forces from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand, and allowed the RAF to practise working with these other countries as part of a joint force, to acquaint themselves with Malaysian Air Space and Air Traffic Control, and to further strengthen relationships between the participating nations.

As part of the exercise, the Nimrod crews had extensive opportunities to practise their submarine hunting skills in the South China Sea, as well as cooperating with other air and naval units in a programme of increasingly demanding events.

On November 23rd 2004 MR.2 XV227 suffered a hot air duct failure in a section of pipe between the Pressure Regulating and Shutoff Valve and the Flow Limiting Venturi. The corroded pipe had allowed air at up to 420°C to damage aileron and flap control cables and pulleys, melt hydraulic pipe fairleads, damage the front face of No 7 fuel tank and damage fuel seals, amongst others. The recommendation to fit a hot air leak detection system was not enacted because of the Nimrod MR.2's 2012 out of service date. [Source: BOI report into the loss of XV230.]

The UK MoD confirmed on December 15th 2004 that No 206 squadron, which was formed during World War 1, was to disband on April 1st 2005. The number of Nimrods would be reduced from 21 to 16, and the number of crews from 31 to 22. Members of the squadron were told the news while on active duty in Iraq.

In March 2005 Crew 1 from CXX Squadron flying XV226 clinched both the Fincastle and Lockheed Martin Maintenance trophies during the week-long Fincastle anti-submarine competition held at RNZAF Whenuapai, New Zealand.

Crew 1 triumphed over teams from the Australian and New Zealand air forces with their superior submarine tracking and attacking skills. The abilities of the airmen were matched by the ground crew who retained the maintenance trophy for Kinloss last won by 206 Squadron during Fincastle 2003, which was held in Australia.

Following the competion, the crew participated in a further week of exercise sorties, working with New Zealand and Australian air and naval forces in the seas around New Zealand.

As expected, No 206 squadron was disbanded on April 1st 2005. The last sortie of a 206-crewed Nimrod landed at 11:00 local time at RAF Kinloss on March 31st 2005. The aircraft was flown by pilot Squadron Leader John Leighton, co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Taff Ackland and Air Engineer Squadron Leader John Nelson (see image, left).

Squadron battle honours: Western Front 1916-1918, Arras 1917, Lys, Channel and North Sea 1939-1945, Atlantic 1939 and 1941-1945, Dunkirk, Invasion Ports 1940, Fortress Europe 1940 and 1942, German Ports 1940 and 1942, Biscay 1941 and 1943-1944, Bismarck, Baltic 1945, South Atlantic 1982, Gulf 1991.

On November 17th 2005 the British government announced that the Nimrod MRA.4 fleet would be based at RAF Kinloss when it comes into service.

XV243, the MR.2 with the highest number of flying hours (19194), arrived at BAE Systems/Woodford on April 27th 2006 for conversion to MRA.4 standard.

In June 2006 Crew 9 from No 201 Squadron, captained by Flt Lt Ade Angell, won the Fincastle Trophy at RAF Kinloss. This was the 17th time since the competition begain in 1961 that the RAF had won the trophy.

The Fincastle competition changed from just focussing on anti-submarine warfare: in 2006, anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) sorties were added. In addition, the competition was no longer free standing. In 2006 it was embedded in Exercise "Neptune Warrior ’06 (02)". This exercise took the form of an escalating scenario based on a UN Task Force. During Neptune Warrior each nation was tasked to fly four sorties as part of the Fincastle competition. In the case of the RAF this involved three day missions and one at night.

On July 18th 2006 an order for 12 Nimrod MRA.4 aircraft was announced at the Farnborough Air Show. Initial operational capability with four aircraft and six crews was scheduled for 2010.

On September 2nd 2006 Nimrod MR.2 XV230 crashed about 20 km (12 miles) west of the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan, killing 14 British military personnel. All but two of the fatalities were from Number 120 Squadron (Crew 3) based at RAF Kinloss. The crew had reported a fire following a routine air-to-air refuelling. The aircraft had been flying at an altitude of 20000 feet, and was supporting NATO operation Medusa at the time. The objective of Medusa was to clear out the Taleban from the Panjwayi district.

The timeline of the crash, as established by the Board of Inquiry, was:

Time (Zulu)Time (Local)Event
09:1313:43XV230 departed normally from (probably) Seeb in Oman. The transit to the operational area took 1.75 hours (1100 miles).
11:0015:30The aircraft rendezvoued with a Tristar tanker and took on 22000lb of fuel in a procedure which took 10 minutes.
11:1115:41A bomb bay fire warning, and an elevator bay underfloor smoke alarm were reported. Smoke was reported entering the aircraft's cabin.
11:1215:42The aircraft depressurised as the fire penetrated the aircraft's pressure hull, forcing the crew to don their oxygen masks.
11:1415:44A crew member reported a fire 'from the rear of the starboard engines'. Another crew member reported a fire within the aileron bay. The captain declared MAYDAY and began a descent towards Khandahar airfield.
11:1515:45The aircraft's flight data recorded stopped recording data.
11:16:3415:46:34The final transmission from the crew, who acknowledged the Khandahar weather for landing.
11:16:5415:46:54XV230 was observed from above by a Harrier pilot, who reported an intense fire close to the starboard fuselage, and also a second fire which stretched behind the aircraft from a point on the side of the rear fuselage.
11:17:3915:47:39XV230 exploded and broke into four sections at an altitude between 750 and 1000 feet.

The wreckage came down in a Taliban-controlled area 20 km (12 miles) west of Kandahar. A nearby Canadian Army unit and 34 Sqd RAF Regiment secured the area, and recovered the crew's bodies, their personal effects and classified equipment & material. The RAF Regiment team was withdrawn by air at 13:40 local time the following day when the security situation became untenable.

XV230 was one of the aircraft equipped with the L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical turret in 2003. Project Broadsword, which was implemented in early 2006, introduced the capability to transmit real-time video imagery from the MX-15 to ground stations and commanders. An order for an additional eight MX-15 systems was placed in 2006.

Those killed from 120 squadron were: Flt Lt Steven Johnson, Flt Lt Leigh Mitchelmore, Flt Lt Gareth Nicholas, Flt Lt Allan Squires, Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, FS Gary Andrews, FS Stephen Beattie, FS Gerard Bell, FS Adrian Davies, Sgt Benjamin Knight, Sgt John Langton and Sgt Gary Quilliam. The other two fatalities were L Cpl Oliver Dicketts from the Parachute Regiment, and Marine Joseph Windall.

An RAF Board of Inquiry was established to investigate the accident. Its preliminary report said the Nimrod was "ripped apart" by a series of explosions after a fuel pipe fractured during or after mid-air refuelling.

Following an "urgent safety inspection" of the fleet, a forward-deployed Nimrod was reported to have flown an operational mission on September 3rd (or 4th) 2006, while training resumed at Kinloss on September 6th. This was despite the fact that the so-called "safety inspection" revealed evidence of fatigue issues within the pipework.

Another crash was narrowly averted on November 8th 2006, when a second Nimrod MR.2 suffered a similar fuel pipe fracture on operations in the Middle East as the aircraft was refuelled in mid-air. As a result of this incident, all Nimrod mid-air refuelling was suspended, which severely curtailed Nimrod operations over Iraq and Afghanistan.

On February 21st 2007 all Nimrod MR.2s were grounded as a precautionary measure after a routine safety check uncovered a dent in a fuel pipe. Some aircraft had been cleared to resume operations within 24 hours.

On May 22nd 2007 the UK MoD admitted that there had been 25 Nimrod fuel leaks between October 2006 and March 2007. Official figures also showed that Nimrods flew more than 3,000 hours longer than they should have in the two years before the Kandahar accident.

On November 5th 2007 Nimrod MR.2 XV235 was forced to make an emergency landing at Khandahar after fuel was found to be leaking into the weapons bay during air-to-air refuelling. The log entry of the incident (which was leaked to the BBC) said: "The bomb bay heating mixing chamber cladding was soaked with fuel. Fuel was also observed on the pipework on the roof of the bomb bay area". As a result of this incident Nimrod air-to-air refuelling was again suspended. XV235 returned to Kinloss for further checks.

In mid-November 2007 No 51 Squadron deployed a Nimrod R.1 to RAF Kinloss to participate in a Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor (CQWI) course for the first time. The aircraft flew daily missions with Nimrod MR.2s and Sentry AEW.1s as part of an ISTAR package, providing air and land pictures of the battle space using its ESM and SIGINT capabilities.

On December 4th the long-awaited Board of Inquiry report into the crash of XV230 on September 2nd 2006 was released. Without access to the wreckage the BOI put forward the most likely scenario for the fire and the events and factors which led to the loss of the aircraft. The fire probably resulted from escaped fuel igniting against a hot pipe in a compartment near the wing-fuselage attachment – the No 7 tank dry bay. The fuel probably gained access to the pipe through a gap between two types of insulation. The fuel most likely escaped from one of two possible sources: the action of a pressure-relief device in the main fuel tank, which led to an overflow of fuel during Air to Air Refuelling, or a leaking fuel coupling.

The Board made 33 recommendations to ensure safety measures were formally incorporated within Nimrod procedures. It also highlighted a number of factors which could have contributed to the explosion. These included the age of some of the Nimrod's components, the maintenance of the fleet's fuel and hot air systems and the lack of fire detectors and extinguishers within the area where the fire started.

At the conclusion of the inquest into the loss of XV230 on September 2nd 2006, Andrew Walker, the Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire, made the unprecedented assertion on May 23rd 2008 the all Nimrods should be grounded as the fleet had "never been airworthy". The basis for this claim was that the modifications to turn MR.1s into MR.2s required a supplementary cooling pack, and this required air from the cross feed pipe (between the engines), which had to be operating all the time, when previously it had only been required at engine startup. In Dry Bay 7 the cross feed pipe, containing air at a temperature of 400 to 500°C, was next to large fuel feed pipes, but despite the potential fire risk no fire detection or suppression system was installed in the bay. However, Nimrod operations over Afghanistan continued.

MR.2 XV236 was broken up at Boscombe Down for aircraft ageing auditing purposes (ie to attempt to prove that the Nimrod fleet was fit for purpose).

The Fincastle 2008 maritime and ISR exercise/competition was held at CFB Comox between April 28th and May 18th. The RAF's No 201 Squadron was again named the winner of the trophy.

On September 20th 2008 a report in the British press claimed that fuel pipes in the bomb bay of the stripped-down Nimrod were dangerously misaligned, placing a strain on a key coupling joint.

On January 30th 2009 MR.2 XV232 ran off the runway after landing at Kinloss, damaging the undercarrriage. There were no casualties. See the picture below:

On March 9th 2009 the UK MoD announced that all Nimrods that had not been fitted with replacement fuel seals and engine bay hot air ducts were to temporarily cease flying after March 31st 2009. This meant that all Nimrods operating overseas were temporarily withdrawn until early summer. This was despite the fact that ministers insisted that the aircraft was safe to fly following the loss of XV230 in September 2006.

Nimrod R.1 XW665 apparently made its last flight on October 27th 2009. It is expected to go to Newark for eventual display and preservation.

On October 28th 2009 Charles Hadddon-Cave QC published the report of his independent inquiry into the loss of Nimrod XV230. The large and meticulously detailed report can be found here.

In summary, the inquiry found that Nimrod design flaws introduced at three stages played a crucial part in the loss of XV230. First, the original fitting of the Cross-Feed duct by Hawker Siddeley in about 1969. Second, the addition of the SCP by British Aerospace in about 1979. Third, the fitting of a permanent Air-to-Air Refuelling modification by British Aerospace in about 1989.

The Nimrod Safety Case (2001-2005) was described as a "lamentable job from start to finish" and "riddled with errors". The NSC 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 "tick-box" exercise. If the NSC had been conducted properly, the risk of a catastrophic fire in Dry Bay 7 would have been identified.

Finally, airworthiness was a casualty of the process of cuts, change, dilution and distraction commenced by the 1998 Strategic Defence Review; organisational pressures, weaknesses and failures were a significant cause of the loss of XV230; the failures were both a failure of leadership, and collective failures to keep safety and airworthiness at the top of the agenda, despite the torrent of change during the period 1998 to 2006.

The report concluded that the accident to XV230 was avoidable, and that XV230 was lost because of a systemic breach of the Military Covenant brought about by significant failures on the part of the MoD, BAE Systems and QinetiQ. A large number of recommendations were made to prevent this happening again. It remains to be seen whether they will be implemented.

On December 15th 2009 the MoD announced that the Nimrod MR.2 fleet was to be withdrawn from service a year early in March 2010, and the introduction of the Nimrod MRA.4 would be delayed until 2012. How SAR cover will be provided in the interim has not been specified.

The MRA.4 came a step closer on March 10th 2010 when aircraft PA-04 (ZJ514) was formally accepted by Group Captain Jerry Kessell, UK MoD's Head of Underwater Capability, at BAE Systems' Woodford site. This followed the type acceptance of the MRA.4, which allowed the delivery of production aircraft to start, and also allowed aircrew training to begin.

PA-04 moved from Woodford to BAE Systems' Warton site, where RAF aircrew will be trained under what is termed the Transition Programme. The MRA.4 will transfer to the aircraft's future main operating base at RAF Kinloss in late summer (2010) once an initial release to service and a support contract are in place.

On March 18th 2010 a Nimrod flew top cover during the medical evacuation of an injured seaman from the container ship "Montreal Express" 200 miles south-west of Cork. The Nimrod guided the rescue helicopters to the ship.

A Nimrod MR.2 from No 42(R) squadron paid the type's last visit to Gibraltar on the weekend of 20th/21st March 2010 as part of NATO exercise Active Endeavour. Visits were also made to Guernsey (to mark 201's Squadron's affiliation with the island), Woodford near Manchester (where Nimrods were built), and the former RAF St Mawgan (now Newquay International Airport) where 42 squadron was based for a long time.

An RAF officer told BBC Scotland he fears lives will be put "at risk" by the MOD's decision to withdraw Nimrods from operations at the end of March. He said: "The Hercules [interim replacement] does not have proper maritime radar, their crews are not trained in search and rescue, they don't train regularly on doing visual searches at sea, and the do not practice dropping life rafts. These are special procedures necessary to save lives. It is unfair that we put them [rescue helicopters] in that position with no top cover. We have never lost a helicopter in hover, but we can't budget on the fact that it won't happen. I think we are putting helicopter crews at increased risk."

On March 26th 2010 VIPs, RAF personnel, their families and a number of veterans attended an event to mark the last days of the Nimrod. Attendees had the opportunity to look round a Nimrod aircraft, tour some exhibitions covering the operational role of the MR.2 over its last 31 years. A short parade of the Squadron Standards followed, along with a eulogy on the aircraft and a valediction which was given by AOC 2 Group, AVM Steve Hillier. The highlight of the event was the formation flypast of 2 Nimrods.

On March 30th 2010 No 42 (Torpedo Bomber) Squadron flew its last sortie on the MR.2. Aircraft XV232 left Kinloss at 09:00 and routed to Rockall, St Kilda, the former RAF St Mawgan and RAF Valley, before returning via RAF Lossiemouth and a landing in a snowstorm at Kinloss 5 hours and 35 minutes later. 58000lb of fuel was burnt during the flight. Aircraft altitude varied from 200 ft over the sea to 36000 ft on the recovery to Kinloss. The maximum speed attained was 7 miles per minute (420 mph/370 knots). The Captain was Sqn Ldr Rab Forbes, and the 1st Pilot was Sqn Ldr 'Buster' Edwards.

The remaining MR.2s were all retired on March 31st 2010 after nearly 41 years service. A final operational flight around Scottish airfields was planned for the 31st, but weather conditions prevented this happening.

Nimrod MR.2 XV250 made what was probably its last flight on April 13th 2010, when it flew from Kinloss to the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington. It will be maintained in full ground operational capacity as a 'live' aircraft.

The RAF is planning to send its remaining two Nimrod R.1s to Afghanistan later in 2010. The mission will be the type's last major deployment before its retirement in March 2011. The R.1s have recently received a number of unspecified upgrades, including to the type's communications intelligence suite.

It was reported on October 18th 2010 that training flights on the Nimrod MRA.4 had been suspended following the discovery of a "potential safety issue".

As the whole MRA.4 programme was abandoned on October 19th 2010, this latest safety issue has become irrelevant.

Work to scrap the Nimrod MRA.4 airframes began at Woodford on January 25th 2011. The MRA4 programme's cancellation has proved controversial, due to the Nimrod's past value in protecting the UK's sea lanes, providing a long-range search and rescue capability and supporting its Trident missile-equipped submarines. Its demise has also placed the future of its planned main operating base at RAF Kinloss in Scotland in doubt.

On March 4th Nimrod R.1 XV249 left RAF Waddington for RAF Akrotiri. It has been noted flying missions from there which one might presume are electronic surveillance missions against Libya.

On March 10th 2010 it was reported that the two remaining Nimrod R.1s, which were due to be taken out of service on March 31st 2011, have received a temporary reprieve until at least the end of June. This is presumably in response to the situation in Libya.

Nimrod R.1 XV249 was noted in the Mediterranean region on March 23rd 2011.

Nimrod R.1 XV249 made the last flight of a Nimrod in RAF service at RAF Waddington on June 28th 2011 during a ceremony to mark the aircraft's retirement. This is despite the fact that the Libyan adventure is still ongoing, yet one of the critical tools for prosecuting that conflict has been withdrawn without replacement.

The penultimate Nimrod flight occured on July 12th 2011, when R.1 XW664 made the short hop from RAF Waddington to East Midlands airport, where it will be displayed at the aeropark museum.

The final Nimrod flight occured on July 29th 2011 when R.1 XV249 arrived at Kemble from Waddington. It will be disassembled before being trucked to Cosford for display.

Morayvia has purchased the front 40 feet of MR.2 XV244, and it is now going to shows on its own low-loader.

During the 1980s XV244 was based at RAF St Mawgan, and took part in many notable operations. On April 5th 1982, flown by a 42 Squadron crew, it was one of the first two Nimrod MR1 aircraft to deploy to Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island in support of Operation Corporate.

The aircraft flew five sorties from Ascension Island before being replaced by the more capable Nimrod MR.2 aircraft from Kinloss. XV244 was converted to an MR.2 in 1985. In July 1988 XV244 was one of the Nimrods coordinating rescue operations that helped save 61 lives during the Piper Alpha disaster.

During the 1990s XV244 once again went to war, again with a 42 Squadron crew from RAF St Mawgan. Deploying on December 7th 1990, it took part in Operation Granby, the UN-sanctioned operation to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. During this operation it was painted with the nose artwork "Battlestar 42".

XV244 made its last flight on July 31st 2009, having flown just over 18,000 hours. It was undergoing servicing when it was announced that the Nimrod MR.2 fleet would be withdrawn from service in March 2010.

Morayvia has also managed to acquire the cockpit and forward fuselage section of MR.2 XV240. This Nimrod had been stationed as the gate guardian at RAF Kinloss since 2009. The cockpit and fuselage will become an exhibit in the Morayvia Aerospace Centre.

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© David Hastings