Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Nimrod Rise and Fall - Tony Blackman

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in Airforce magazine. Therefore, the material is proprietary to the Air Force Association of Canada and is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the association. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Airforce magazine (editor@airforce.ca ). I support the Air Force Association’s important mission to inform new generations of Canadians about the value and importance of their country’s air force. A link to the AirForce Magazine website is: http://airforce.ca/magazine/
Title: Nimrod: Rise and Fall
Author: Tony Blackman
ISBN: 978-1-909166-02-8
Pages: 223
Illustrations: multiple colour photos
Publisher: Grub Street Publishing

                The Nimrod Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft was a mainstay workhorse of the RAF for over 40 years before coming to a sudden and rather inglorious end in March, 2010. Blackman’s book traces the development and evolution of this aircraft as well as providing the reader with an in-depth review of the technical, doctrinal and operational details that were of a more delicate nature during its operational lifetime.

                The initial chapters deal with the history and development of the ASW program within the RAF, identifying the various unique aspects and technologies associated with sub-hunting. This includes the development of acoustics, passive and active sonobuoys and radar systems. He follows this with a detailed discussion of the Nimrod MR2 which was the primary configuration of the Nimrod for a majority of its operational life. His detailed description of the roles of the different flight stations, weapons systems, acoustical equipment and aircraft layout, all replete with photographs, are quite in depth and technical. ASW is a very complicated skill and the language is often steeped with acronyms and data that is completely foreign to the casual reader; Blackman assumes this and goes to great lengths to compensate for this.

                The follow-on chapters deal with the operational use of the Nimrod as an ASW platform, search and rescue (SAR) platform, long range patrol aircraft and intelligence gathering tool. The author takes full advantage of the plethora of experience available through past crew members and provides numerous first-hand accounts of missions; some harrowing, some humorous and all adding depth and scope for the reader. The versatility of the aircraft is clearly exemplified by renditions of the tracking and photographing of the Soviet carrier Kuznetsov and Flanker aircraft launching from it. Additionally, the Nimrod, with its vast range was ideally suited to be a SAR/patrol aircraft. This dovetailed very nicely with the fact that the Soviets had numerous intelligence gathering assets disguised as trawlers. The Nimrod would easily be able to transition roles from fisheries patrols to SAR to maritime security all within the same mission. Its excessive suite of communications and monitoring equipment made it an ideal command and control platform for a variety of circumstances.

                Blackman discusses in detail the events surrounding the Piper Alpha disaster from 1988 when an oil rig in the North Sea caught fire and became the focus of a major rescue operation involving a myriad of civilian air and sea units. Utilizing extensive firsthand accounts as well as general narrative, Blackman provides a comprehensive example of the versatility of the Nimrod as it coordinated the rescue operation on scene between the various onsite assets and the Rescue Coordination Centres. He follows this with a fascinating look at the involvement of the Nimrod in the Falkland’s war emphasizing the flexibility and utility of both the airframe (ie the ability to engage in air to air refueling) as well as the technology within it.

                The final two chapters deal in depth with major blows to the Nimrod and the resultant economic storm that ultimately caused the government to cancel the entire program. The first involved the attempted transition of the Nimrod from an ASW platform to an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform. Initiated in 1977 as a home-grown answer to a command and control platform deficiency; it witnessed the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds over a period of ten years before ultimately being declared a failure by the government and cancelled. Eleven aircraft were destroyed as a result. The final chapter brings to a close the story of the Nimrod. Faced with a significant domestic economic shortfall and an aircraft upgrade program (to the MR4 variant) that was heavily over budget and behind schedule; the British government made the decision in 2010, despite having crews trained, infrastructure in place and operational/upgraded aircraft being delivered, to not just cancel the program outright but to destroy the fleet itself. Blackman, a strong Nimrod supporter, is very critical of both the decision making process and how it was implemented.

                 Overall, this book is an interesting read relating the history of a storied aircraft. The narrative is quite dry and stilted in places, especially within the ‘Nimrod 101’ chapters where he relates the details of equipment, capabilities and crewing of the different variants of the Nimrod. Significant portions of these sections feel like it they are a reiteration of a basic technical manual. He does much better when relating the operational history and usage of the Nimrod within the Cold War and the Falkland Islands conflict. Production value of the book is high and the numerous photographs are a plus. This book is aimed more towards the aviation enthusiast as opposed to the casual reader of aviation history and will be quite enjoyed by that target audience.