BAE maritime patrol aircraft takes off after a lengthy programme delay for 2h flight

The first prototype of BAE Systems' Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft had its debut flight from the company's Woodford plant in the UK last week, days after successfully completing high-speed taxi trials at the Cheshire site.

Conducted on 26 August, the 120min flight came more than a year after the next-generation surveillance aircraft - originally dubbed the Nimrod 2000 - was scheduled to enter service with the Royal Air Force under a 1996 contract. The aircraft landed at BAE's Warton plant in Lancashire, where it is expected to remain on the ground for around two to four weeks to undergo shakedown trials before resuming flight-test activities.

The UK, which originally planned to acquire21 MRA4s remanufactured from the RAF's in-service Nimrod MR2s, earlier this year announced plans to cut its already reduced commitment for 18 aircraft to "around 12". A further two prototypes are in preparation to join an extensive flight-test programme, set to conclude at Warton in 2006-7, with these expected to conduct their flight debuts in late 2004 and mid-2005, respectively. Test activities during the programme's current design and development phase are expected to total around 2,000 flight hours across 600 sorties, according to BAE.

Are structuring of the MRA4 programme finalised last February has identified March 2009 as the new entry into service target for the type, dependent on the outcome and timing of a production decision. BAE is already conducting long-lead strip and survey work on the programme's next five Nimrod airframes at Woodford.

In a further development, the UK Ministry of Defence last week announced plans to award a short-term study "into the cost-effective through-life sustainment of the Nimrod MRA4 weapon system "to BAE. The company already has a similar - and highly successful - contract in place to support the service's maritime patrol Nimrod MR2s until their retirement from service around 2011.




Source: Flight International