Pete (pjc50) wrote,
Pete
pjc50

Nimrod and Kinloss

Can't quite work out how to synthesize these stories, but there's an interesting thread:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-30434422 : Kinloss search-and-rescue closure
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Air_Force_Nimrod_XV230 and http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2008/may/angus-robertson-seeks-nimrod-safety-answers versus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAE_Systems_Nimrod_MRA4

The UK designs and builds the first jet airliner, the Comet, back in 1949. A few upgrades and 20 years later the same basic design becomes the Nimrod MR2 recon aircraft. And there it stays for thirty-seven years, until eventually it catches fire and explodes in midair. In a spectacular bit of retroactive judgement, it's deemed to have been defective design all those years ago combined with neglect.

Why was the MR2 not replaced earlier? Well, the plan was to replace it with the MRA4 .. which was the same plane, just refurbished to modern standards. This project had never got off the ground as it was discovered that the original airframes not only didn't match the design drawings but were all subtly different shapes and sizes as they were hand-built to 60s manufacturing tolerances. An approach which may have made sense when there was a need to churn out Wellington bombers in 24 hours from requisitioned furniture factories for an expected lifetime of a few dozen flights, but doesn't work for modern aviation or endurance recon. The MRA4 was eventually scrapped with extreme prejudice once it became clear that it consume money forever without delivering a flyable aircraft.

So, no recon planes at all shall fly from Kinross. So the airbase side has been closed and downgraded to a barracks. The search-and-rescue will be consolidated with the south coast 400 miles away (no doubt losing local knowledge).
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The SAR control centre issue is an echo of what we went through with the coastguard a few years ago.

To recap quickly: Orkney Coastguard closed down decades ago, and we have been run competently by Shetland. It was proposed to close down nearly all "local" Coastguard control centres, and run everything for all of Scotland (and some of England, I think?) from Aberdeen.

A senior Coastguard officer held a public meeting in Orkney, which I attended. Not once did he mention cost-cutting - which might have got some symapthy; instead, he tried to explain how merging everything into one centre would improve the service.

One of the dive boat skippers explained how at present, the regular divemasters know the Coastguard in Shetland, and they have a locally agreed procedure to shortcut the scripts and checklists and so forth when they have somebody with the bends convulsing on their deck. He asked whether this would remain with a centralised service. The officer looked taken aback, and said "Well, that shouldn't be happening at present".

When asked, inevitably, about local knowledge... well, I don't remember his exact words, but I'm only being slightly unfair if I paraphrase as "We don't need local knowledge any more, we have Technology". He then went on to cite reliability statistics for the BT product that they would be using to connect their remote antennae around the country to Aberdeen... he quoted 99.7% uptime. I did the maths, stood up, and pointed out that this meant an expected one day per year where distress calls would not be heard, and asked whether he considered this acceptable... he then got flustered, and tried to tell us that actually this system had 100% reliability, at which point everybody in the room laughed at him[1].... the meeting did not go well for the Coastguard.

Eventually they made "exceptions" for Shetland and Stornoway, but most of the other local stations did close. I was hearing almost exactly the same arguments on both sides about Kinloss this morning.


[1] I sincerely hope that whoever was actually specifying the comms systems *was* able to do the maths, and had an understanding of resilience.
The other recent story that ties into this is the search for a Russian sub off the coast of Scotland, where the UK asked for NATO assistance because of the capability gap in maritime patrol.

It is a shame, but probably inevitable given the MPA4 debacle, cost constraints and changing global security commitments. I knew Kinloss best when I was in the cadets. Despite Lossiemouth being closer, Kinloss was the base for "Basic Glider Training" (effectively, flying a light aircraft, given it was a motor glider that you kept the engine running) and had air experience flights from, including in the back of a Nimrod. I had a very interesting chat with the radar operator, and got probably more of a demo of the radar capabilities than was strictly allowed. It was slightly disconcerting being in the back of an airliner sized aircraft pulling appreciable G forces as the pilots practiced their submarine tracking exercises, the RR Spey engines gave it substanitally more power than an equivalent civilian airliner.

At least Moray won't be entirely bereft of interesting aircraft. Lossie is one of only three combat fast jet bases left to the RAF (along with Coningsby and Marham), and has the Typhoons moving up from Leuchars and is scheduled to have the Lightning II when they appear.

The Think Defence blog had a very interesting series on potential future Maritime Patrol Aircraft earlier this year. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the SDSR next year; but the implication from the Autumn Statement is that defence will be cut further, which will probably mean more capability loss, rather than funding for a replacement MPA.

This project had never got off the ground

I see what you did there. ;->