That Record-Breaking Nimrod
Nimrod MR2 XV232 has flown to Coventry to be preserved as part of the Air Atlantique Classic Flight. Good news, particularly since I have now learned that this is a record-breaking aircraft, having flown the longest-range aerial reconnaissance operation in history (actually, it broke the record twice in quick succession). Of course we have all heard of that other record-breaking mission during the Falklands War, but I don't think I had ever heard about this one. I wanted to know more about this mission, so I did a little Googling. I apologies for any errors, I know the internet can be a little iffy on accuracy. Most of the information I found came from here, here, here and here. The Flight archives also offer some interesting additonal reading such as here and here.
Like most of the heavy (non-carrier) air assets during the Falklands War, the Nimrods were operating out of Wideawake airfield on Ascension Island, with the first examples arriving on April 6, 1982. However, the Nimrod was not designed with air to air refueling capability. A crash course was put into action to equip eight MR2 aircraft with ex-Vulcan refueling probes, being designated MR2P, to help overcome with the vast distances of the South Atlantic. These aircraft were also famously fitted later on in the war for under wing Sidewinder missiles, making them "the world's largest fighters" (another record, perhaps).
First flight of a probe-equipped (though not fully plumbed) aircraft, XV229, was on April 27, with intensive crew training following. Getting the fuel from the probe into the aircraft fuel tanks themselves also proved a challenge. In the end, two standard fuel bowser hoses ran through the cockpit escape hatch, then down under the cabin floor to the main refuel point under the aircraft. Round-the-clock testing of the modifications followed, with a final endurance limit set at 19 hours. There was apparently one evaluation flight lasting at least 28 hours! The first MR2P to deploy to Wideawake was XV227 on May 7.
On May 15 or 19 (my sources differ), XV232 made it's first record breaking mission, flown by a 201 Sqn crew. The aircraft flew 8300 miles down to a point 150 miles north of Port Stanley, then west until only 60 miles from the coast of Argentina, turning to fly north east, parallel to the coastline. The mission required three air to air refuelings by Victor tankers. Apparently the aircraft flew in daylight at altitudes of 7000 to 12000 ft, and was not yet fitted with the Sidewinders; sounds like a sitting duck - how it survived without getting shot at I have no idea.
The second record-breaking flight was on May 21. XV232, this time flown by a crew from 206 Sqn, flew 8453 miles in 18 hours 50 minutes in search of Argentine warships just prior to the British landings at San Carlos. This distance record has not been broken to this day.
XV232 presumably flew back to the UK for Sidewinder fitting at the end of May, returning to Wideawake on June 5 and became the first Nimrod cleared for operations with the Sidewinder. In the end, the Sidewinders (intended mostly to counter Argentine Boeing 707 sea patrols) were not used during the conflict. Following the war, all Nimrod MR2s were fitted with air to air refueling capability, with the "P" being dropped eventually.
Compared with the Vulcan, the Nimrod story in the Falklands is largely untold to the wider public, which is a shame. From the little I have read today, it sounds like the Nimrod went through many similar challenges as the Vulcans to support operations in the South Atlantic with respect to equipment, training and human endurance, and I'm sure there are many more stories out there. Maybe it's time for Rowland White to write another book...