The BBC are reporting another Nimrod fuel leak http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7087223.stm that happened earlier this week and all A2A refuelling has now been suspended on the fleet. The Qinetiq report mentioned in the BBC link doesn't make good reading....
Is it time that the Nimrod is grounded for the safety of the crews? Yes it carries out missions that only it can and yes its replacement is years behind schedule but the safety of the crew is paramount. They know and accept that the sandy places are dangerous, but having to contend with potentially lethal aircraft failures, thats another thing.
The Times are reporting that a BAE Systems report from 2004 states that the Nimrod fleet suffered from 880 fires or "smoke related incidents" over the previous twenty years.
Full story here.
My wings are like a shield of steel.
Andrew Walker, the Oxfordshire coroner holding the inquest into the crash has stated that in his opinion the entire fleet has never been airworthy and should be grounded.
Of course the MOD are under no obligation to listen to him, but if they don't and another tragedy happens then the ramifications would probably be enormous.
Might one have the temerity as a humble civilian to question how it is that the Squadron maintenance officers continue to sign-off or release-for-service, these patently most suspect aircraft? And just where does the responsibility of the Commanding Officers lie in an active RAF squadron? It seems barely credible that the "bean-counting" brigade are actually over-riding the considered judgement of experienced and qualified aviation personnel.
And what about the responsibility of the Pilot-in-Command? Good God...if an aircraft is leaking fuel in significant quantities, what is so complicated about simply declaring it UNSERVICABLE, taking it off-line and keeping it GROUNDED until it is RECTIFIED ? If you can't fix it; SCRAP IT. Or am I a simpleton?
Is it too strong to say that, in the Civil Aviation world, we might be contemplating "CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER?
Or am I way out of line perhaps????
As a Moderator for this site, have just had a calmer look at my somewhat forceful words on the continuing Nimrod situation. I may have broken one of my strong rules that I applied when carrying out an investigation into an air accident. NEVER be tempted to draw any conclusions until every scrap of relevant evidence has been gathered and assembled into the File. It is just so human to allow the germ of an idea to take hold of one and then, without realising it, attempt to make the data fit one's chosen scenario. I have been following Nimrod problems for years, but have not really delved deeply into specific individual cases. The RAF has a long proud record of doing the best they can, despite the influences of politicians and others who know little or nothing about the technical complications of operating aircraft. So I hope I did not p**s you RAF chaps off too much....but really fellows; surely you don't have to fly arguably U/S machines when not actually engaged in a full-blown war and under attack...do you?
I'm glad you've pulled back on the tone of your initial post, I don't think the message here is that the RAF is deliberately turning a blind eye to risks that put the lives of their colleagues in danger.
From what I have read / heard there is a propensity for the aircraft to suffer fuel leaks in operation (partially due to a requirement of certain couplings to be aligned within 1° and the difficulty in inspecting this in the fleet). This seems to be a question of robustness, not of dispatch/ aircraft release. There is also the requirement for the aircraft (all aircraft) to be resistant to ignition should a fuel leak occur: This falls strongly into the industry efforts that no single problem should cause risk to any aircraft.
On all aircraft there are several potential ignition sources, either electrical or thermal, and engineering efforts are made to mitigate them, that is to say to reduce the risk to zero. Some are obvious, some less so (lest we forget TWA Flight 800, rest their souls). It seems that when the retrofit / upgrade of the Nimrod from MR1 to MR2 occurred a new ignition source was added in an area not immediately adjacent to the problematic pipework. This new source were the systems air conditioning pipes that were incorrectly / insufficiently lagged. This system has since been de-commissioned and the RAF is re-evaluating all the other (mainly electrical) ignition sources.
So what we have is a potential ignition source that had been identified but had been considered of insufficient risk for immediate action. For me this is an example of not so joined up thinking that is very similar to the thought process that gave a "go to launch" for an o-ring outside it's operational limit that happened to be installed in a solid rocket booster that happened to be strapped to a shuttle that happened to be strapped to several very unlucky NASA astronauts.
Groups of very interested, very intelligent, very well meaning people are capable of arriving at life threatening events by way of a series of small, seemingly unimportant, poorly judged decisions.
Not defending, not criticising and in no way based on any information that hasn't been communicated publicly, these thoughts are my personal opinion. If I am factually incorrect please correct me. My opinions should not be taken to be representative of fact or opinion from anyone I am connected with professionally. Is that a big enough disclaimer?
As a PS, there was in interesting discussion on BBC Radio 4 on this subject between Jimmy Jones (one of the Nimrod's original Flight Engineers and adviser to the victims' legal team) and Air Marshal Sir Barry Thornton (responsible for RAF Maintenance). It was pod casted here: BBC PODCAST (http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/today/today_20080524-1024.mp3)
I'm a conscientious man... when I throw rocks at seabirds I leave no tern unstoned. (Ogden Nash)
Et nom de dieu! C'est triste Orly la dimanche (Jacques Brel)
Having flown military (mostly fighters) for 19 yrs and civil for 24, I have at times been faced with 'airworthiness' decisions both as the pilot and as the responsible manager. I suppose risk management/assessment is what it is all about however, I do think the coroner is wrong to assert that someone somewhere in the RAF would knowingly put crews in danger i.e. insist on them flying U/S aircraft. Equally, I have never come across anyone in my career who would get airborne as a pilot in an aircraft that he/she thought was U/S irrespective of pressure applied although of course there have over the years, been many instances of individuals taking calculated risks when they deemed that others lives may depend on it.
RAF Phantoms leaked fuel prodigously from the wing tanks when new (200 hrs on the clock) and the SR71 Blackbird was even worse - no doubt other examples could be found. What does seem to be the case with the Nimrod is that the risk of fuel and ignition source being in proximity was not recognised in the rush to give the type AAR capabilty re. Falklands nor was it addressed subsequently. It would seem that the operational procedures introduced after the tragic accident have removed that risk.
Aircraft have always had fuel leaks and always will, the crucial things are where it leaks and when. Some leaks are no/low risk others are high.
On a general point, the procurers and politicians should look to their conciences regarding the age of such aircraft and the rest of the 'heavy' fleet.
I didn't know about the Phantoms, but I think the SR71 may be a special case. I understand that the fuel had such a high ignition temperature that if you threw in a lit match the fuel would put it out. But again, I might be remembering that wrong.