A detailed study of a British
Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft discovered that two fuel lines were
misaligned, and that put stress on couplings and caused leaks. After a Nimrod
crash in Afghanistan in 2006, because of fuel leak problems, the government was
pressured to find out if the aircraft had some fatal design flaws. Nimrod crews
had been complaining about fuel leaks for years, and the 2006 crash was a major
blow to the morale of those crews. Royal Air Force personnel (commanders and
Nimrod air crews) are not happy with this situations, having been put off (by
the politicians) for decades when they complained of the aging Nimrods.
remaining Nimrods are considered too old (introduced in 1969) to be fixed by
anything short of a complete rebuild. The fuel leaks, and the agitation of the
crews, led to the Nimrods flying less. Meanwhile, Britain needed the electronic
monitoring version of Nimrod for service in Afghanistan. Since the rebuild
would take too long, and Britain needed the electronic monitoring aircraft now,
two similar aircraft were leased from the United States. So this year, Britain
is borrowing two U.S. Air Force electronic monitoring aircraft (C-135 Rivet
Joint) to fill in because of shortages. The aircraft will have joint British
and American crews, but will be painted in Royal Air Force colors.
The 87 ton
Nimrod is a 1960s design that uses the airframe of the 1950s era Comet jet
airliner. There has been work on a replacement aircraft, but money shortages,
and disagreements over specifications, have delayed this. The Nimrod carries a
crew of twelve, and stays in the air 10-11 hours per sortie.
pump misalignment was discovered after the government ordered aircraft
engineers to strip down a Nimrod and seek out any fatigue or design problems.
It was long believed that the fuel leaks were caused by metal fatigue, faulty
fuel pumps or aerial refueling problems. Now it appears it was the improperly
installed fuel pipes. It's unclear if fixing the misaligned pipes will make the
Nimrod safe to fly. It is an old aircraft, and there is increasing pressure to
acquire a new model. But Britain has been cutting its defense budget since the
end of the Cold War in 1991 and there's a lot of Cold War era equipment in need
of replacement. The Nimrod was designed for anti-submarine warfare, as well as
maritime patrol. But the Russian submarine fleet has largely gone away (because
of age, poor design and lack of money for maintenance.) So the 18 remaining
Nimrods may be doomed.