BAE Systems has achieved the power-on milestone for the first of nine Nimrod MRA4s on firm order for the UK Royal Air Force, and says the surveillance platform is on track to enter service in 2010.
Aircraft PA4 (below) is now 93% complete at BAE's Woodford site in Cheshire, and is expected to make its first flight early next year, following the installation of mission system equipment, the company says. The power-on test was performed "without a glitch", it adds.
© BAE Systems
Also pictured are a further two production aircraft and the programme's second development aircraft, PA2, which has been used to support trials of the MRA4's navigation and communications equipment.
BAE's three MRA4 development aircraft have now logged more than 1,300 flight hours in more than 400 sorties, and the manufacturer says "qualification of the aircraft systems is almost complete".
Recent programme highlights have included a 10-week series of trials at France's Istres flight-test centre involving aircraft PA1 and PA3. The work included testing the aircraft's ability to stop from an aborted take-off roll of up to 125kt (230km/h) and maximum take-off weight, determining its minimum take-off speed with one engine out, and assessing handling performance under incorrect trim settings.
"The aircraft demonstrated excellent reliability throughout," says Nimrod MRA4 managing director Steve Timms, who notes that PA1 conducted a record 25 flights within one two-week period.
The Royal Air Force is now expected to field nine MRA4s, with the programme's three development aircraft not under contract to be converted for operational use.
Originally scheduled to enter service from 2003 as a 21-aircraft fleet, the Nimrod MR2 replacement programme is projected as costing at least £3.5 billion ($5.2 billion).