Naval Air: Nimrods Doomed


September23, 2008:  A detailed study of a British Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft discovered that two fuel lines were misaligned, and that put stress on couplings and caused leaks. After a Nimrod crash in Afghanistan in 2006, because of fuel leak problems, the government was pressured to find out if the aircraft had some fatal design flaws. Nimrod crews had been complaining about fuel leaks for years, and the 2006 crash was a major blow to the morale of those crews. Royal Air Force personnel (commanders and Nimrod air crews) are not happy with this situations, having been put off (by the politicians) for decades when they complained of the aging Nimrods.

The remaining Nimrods are considered too old (introduced in 1969) to be fixed by anything short of a complete rebuild. The fuel leaks, and the agitation of the crews, led to the Nimrods flying less. Meanwhile, Britain needed the electronic monitoring version of Nimrod for service in Afghanistan. Since the rebuild would take too long, and Britain needed the electronic monitoring aircraft now, two similar aircraft were leased from the United States. So this year, Britain is borrowing two U.S. Air Force electronic monitoring aircraft (C-135 Rivet Joint) to fill in because of shortages. The aircraft will have joint British and American crews, but will be painted in Royal Air Force colors.

The 87 ton Nimrod is a 1960s design that uses the airframe of the 1950s era Comet jet airliner. There has been work on a replacement aircraft, but money shortages, and disagreements over specifications, have delayed this. The Nimrod carries a crew of twelve, and stays in the air 10-11 hours per sortie.

The fuel pump misalignment was discovered after the government ordered aircraft engineers to strip down a Nimrod and seek out any fatigue or design problems. It was long believed that the fuel leaks were caused by metal fatigue, faulty fuel pumps or aerial refueling problems. Now it appears it was the improperly installed fuel pipes. It's unclear if fixing the misaligned pipes will make the Nimrod safe to fly. It is an old aircraft, and there is increasing pressure to acquire a new model. But Britain has been cutting its defense budget since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and there's a lot of Cold War era equipment in need of replacement. The Nimrod was designed for anti-submarine warfare, as well as maritime patrol. But the Russian submarine fleet has largely gone away (because of age, poor design and lack of money for maintenance.) So the 18 remaining Nimrods may be doomed.



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