The multirole capability of the Nimrod MRA4 is greater than its Comet origins would suggest: The aircraft actually has room for growth, says the leader of the Joint Test Team.

Sqn Ldr Drew Steel says the UK Royal Air Force has a funded study to see what the implications of adding new capabilities by UOR (Urgent Operational Requirement) may be. "The aircraft will be built 'fitted for' new role equipment, but not 'fitted with' it," he says, adding: "But I am 100% confident that the attack role can happen.

"We can carry more weapons than other platforms, and carry them further. In 30 years I have never worked on an aircraft with 'spare' weight, power, space, cooling and processing. Nimrod MRA4 has them all.

"The aircraft has a vastly superior network-enabled capability, with Link 11 and Link 16 fully integrated, and with a data fusion system making disparate data sources mutually intelligible and comprehensible."

New ISTAR and bomber capabilities were envisaged from the start, including the ability to launch Storm Shadow stand-off missiles.

The RAF's existing Nimrod MR2s are already much more than anti-submarine aircraft, and undertook challenging overland reconnaissance and special forces support duties over Iraq during 2003.

If anything, recent delays and difficulties have forced BAE Systems to adopt a narrower focus. The initial emphasis in the programme is on getting the aircraft into service in the maritime (ASW, ASuW, and SAR) role to replace the existing Nimrod MR2.

ASW is the main priority. Nothing is being done that might slow progress in this critical area.

With its new two-man glass cockpit - taken from the Airbus A340, and thereby de-risked during thousands of hours of airline operation - FMS (taken from the Boeing 737-800) and 15,500lb (70kN) thrust Rolls-Royce BR710 engines (proven on the Gulfstream V and Global Express) the MRA4 is a "very much more modern aircraft than its Comet origins might suggest", says Steel.

Though the Nimrod MRA4 programme has encountered delays and some technical problems, these have now been solved, and rapid progress is being made. The programme has been restructured from a fixed price to a target cost incentive basis, and a Joint Test Team will streamline the test, evaluation, and acceptance process.

Even before the MRA4 flew, considerable work was undertaken using sophisticated mission equipment rigs, and the first of three funded prototype conversions made its first flight within 18 months of the radical overhaul and restructuring of the programme. The second followed 16 weeks later.

The programme is much more mature than would be expected at the 30 flight point in a planned 600 flight test programme. The two prototypes are exceeding the planned flying rate, and the programme is steadily 'catching up'.

Production pricing information was submitted to the customer on 24 December 2004, based on a formal production bid for nine aircraft, and the 'productionisation' of the first three prototypes. Four further MR2 airframes of an available 'pool' of 28 aircraft are in 'strip and survey' at BAE's Woodford plant.

Although based on the use of existing Nimrod fuselage structures, the aircraft is largely newly built, and only 5% of parts are reused.

Even while there were problems, the Nimrod MRA4 was demonstrating great potential in other areas. "For every bad headline something great was happening," commented Steel. "Those days are over, however, and we will fly the full mission system this year. There's little risk of change in the remaining flight test programme."



Source: Flight Daily News