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Nimrod Rise and Fall is about an aircraft which was arguably the world’s best reconnaissance aircraft until it was stopped prematurely by the Government of the day under great financial duress but, unfortunately, leaving the Country almost defenceless from a maritime reconnaissance viewpoint, certainly for long distances It is written for the general reader, not for Nimrod aficionados, though I hope that they will read it with interest and enjoy it. Not many people realise what a great job the aircraft did because so much of what it did was classified. Conversely they don’t realise what a great loss it is to this country. My aim in writing this book is to let everyone know what a superb aircraft it was and tell a few stories of all the things it could do. It tells as much as is currently allowed about the fascinating task of anti submarine warfare, explaining the challenges involved. However there is a lot more to be told when security permits but, regrettably, it must be for another day.
One major feature of the Nimrod which cannot be over emphasized is that it succeeded so well because of the tremendous teamwork between all the members of the crew. In the Royal Air Force, at one end of the scale is the high performance fighter/ground attack aircraft flown by one person, the pilot. At the other end was the Nimrod with at least ten crew and each person had a vital part to play to bring a mission to a successful conclusion. Both tasks are essential but very often it was the ‘speed jockey’ who flew for a few alarming minutes who got the plaudits and the exhausted Nimrod Crew flying for hours at a time which got forgotten
The original Nimrod design was conceived to prevent a French competitor being selected but, in the event, proved its superiority over all the others. It started as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft but as technology advanced it was able to have new sensors fitted which enabled it to provide vital support to the UK ground forces also in a reconnaissance role. Unfortunately in an effort to make the aircraft even more effective to fulfil all its roles the manufacturer failed to manage properly the changed wing design and new engine installation which they had proposed, with the result that the procurement costs soared and the programme was delayed by at least two years. However, just as the new aircraft was about to go into service, after all the investment had been made, the Government was faced with a financial crisis and decided that the aircraft had to be sacrificed, perhaps not really appreciating why it was so vital to the UK to fulfil all its commitments and not facing up to the fact that it will, in the future, have to buy a foreign replacement aircraft in due course costing just as much and probably more, while paying unemployment benefit to all the aerospace workers who could have been looking after the Nimrod in service.
The book tells just a few of the many many stories of the very valuable work that the aircraft was able to do with its dedicated crews and includes many vivid personal accounts. It gives an elementary introduction to anti-submarine warfare with a description of the roles of all the crew members. Its accident record is discussed, particularly the terrible accident in Afghanistan which was due to inadequate flight testing; there is a photograph of the underside of the Nimrod showing the probable source of the fire and explaining how the accident should never have happened. The Airborne Early Warning variant which never worked satisfactorily is examined critically as is the MRA4 upgrade which turned into a horror story bringing credit neither to the manufacturer nor to the Government. In both cases aircraft were destroyed and the beneficiary was and inevitably will be the United States aircraft manufacturers.
As I was writing this book the Government had to issue a last minute reprieve to the planned grounding of the Nimrod R1 electronic reconnaissance aircraft of 51 Squadron because of the need to monitor electronically the transmissions from all the countries who are involved or who are interested in the numerous Middle East democratic uprisings. Had the Government not authorized the rather precipitate scrapping of the MRA4s they could be flying right now since the aircraft was working well and the crews already being trained.
There have been many excellent papers written explaining the problem that the Country now is in following the cancellation of the MRA4. Dr Sue Robertson’s written evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee is extremely cogent and all embracing:-
There is also an article by Lee Willet called Mind the Gap in a RUSI Journal which concentrates on anti submarine warfare:-
I would have loved to have included these articles in this book had space permitted since the arguments are so well expressed. However the concluding paragraphs in the last paragraphs of the book does deal with some of the issues.