The first production example of BAE Systems' Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft began engine grounds runs at Woodford in Cheshire on 2 June. It should fly around September, the company says.
Dubbed PA4, the aircraft (below) is the first of nine earmarked for the UK Royal Air Force now in build. It should make around nine validation and proving flights ahead of its delivery in November and receive release to service approval by the first quarter of next year.
Both images © BAE Systems
The programme's second operational-standard airframe underwent power-on in May and under current plans the entire fleet will be delivered by the first quarter of 2012, says Steve Timms, BAE's managing director Nimrod.
The RAF expects the MRA4 to meet an in-service date of December 2010, with this to be achieved with the availability of four aircraft and four trained aircrews at RAF Kinloss in Scotland.
"Our focus at Woodford is to deliver those four aircraft," said Timms, speaking at BAE's Warton site in Lancashire on 8 June. The first should arrive at the base next February to support training activities, as the service prepares for the retirement of its remaining Nimrod MR2s by 31 March 2011.
BAE is continuing to urge the UK Ministry of Defence to fund the conversion of its three development aircraft for operational use, but Timms confirms: "The current advice we're getting is that this is a nine-aircraft programme."
The company is assessing whether to table a bid using the three MoD-owned development aircraft as replacements for the RAF's Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence fleet.
"We're assessing what is the sensible way forward. There are a number of mission system options, and we are considering them," says Timms, who adds: "They've asked us to do it quickly." The RAF's current three R1 airframes are set for retirement in mid-2012.