Farewell to the Nimrod R1

On Tuesday 28th June 2011, the Nimrod Force Element came together to give the venerable Nimrod R1 aircraft an almighty send off. Nos 51, 54(R) and 56(R) Squadrons joined with Electronic Reconnaissance Operational Support Squadron and Electronic Warfare Avionics Department to bid farewell to an aircraft that has served the Royal Air Force for an incredible 37 years.

Notably, during its extensive service it was involved in all of the major conflicts participated in by the UK, including the Falklands, Balkans, both Gulf wars and the ongoing efforts in both Afghanistan and Libya.

The Nimrod lineage can be charted back to the de Havilland Comet which was not only the first jet engine passenger airliner, but also the first jet aeroplane to travel across the Atlantic Ocean from London to New York.

The first prototype Nimrod MR1 (XV148) completed its first flight on the 23rd May 1967. This aircraft was used for a number of development tasks but never entered operational service. The Nimrod MR1 entered service with 236 Operational Conversion Unit at Royal Air Force St Mawgan on the 2nd October 1969 replacing the Shackleton in its Maritime Reconnaissance role. In 1969 three Nimrods were ordered for Electronic Surveillance duties, initially as HS 801Rs but later designated as the Nimrod R1. The first Nimrod R1 training sortie was flown on 31st October 1973, with the first operational sortie being flown on 3rd May 1974. The aircraft was formally commissioned one week later on 10th May.

With this remarkable history in mind the Nimrod Force Element wanted to celebrate their aircraft’s outstanding dedication to military service and contribution to front-line operations. Despite the ever changing weather on the day, Force Element personnel, guests and associates, both old and new, watched the farewell parade and the final flight of the Nimrod R1. The flypast, captained by Flight Lieutenant Mike Chatterton, saw XV249 fly directly over the parade, giving all spectators a rousing experience of the Nimrod in the air for the last time. Nimrod R1 aircraft XW664 was also in attendance, proudly sat behind the parade square, she provided a fitting backdrop for the day’s events. Moreover, after the commemorative parade her doors were opened for guests to walk through and relive old memories, or for some, experience the mystery for the first time.

The parade was formed in front of the XW664 by the parade Warrant Officer, Master Aircrewman Mike Whelan, who then handed over to the Parade Commander, Squadron Leader Dave Alderman. The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment led by the Director of Music, Flight Lieutenant Richard Murray, and Drum Major Steve Maher, played many poignant pieces, including Nimrod and the Squadron’s own signature piece, Swift and Sure. The Parade Commander presented the parade to The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, who spoke fondly of the aircrew, groundcrew and mission support personnel who have worked with the Nimrod over the years. He said that it was “a great honour and a privilege to show his gratitude to 51 Squadron and its support elements, who have done a fantastic job since 1974”. He added that he was “sorry to see the Nimrod R1 reach the end of its life”, saying “it provided an enormous service to the Country and the Armed Forces”.

Once the official parade was over, all guests were invited to socialise with current Force Element members. Drinks and canapés were provided by the Officers’ Mess Manager, Flight Sergeant Mark Willis, and his staff. Throughout the event, the catering staff were extremely attentive and professional, and this directly contributed to the smooth and efficient running of the post-parade hosting of dignitaries and guests. Moreover, the quality of the food was superb and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Inside No 5 Hangar there was a fascinating display showing the history of the Nimrod and a history of all of the Squadrons. Additionally, a special commemorative leather-bound ‘Signature Book’ was available for all the guests to sign and allow them to make individual comments.

In order for all of this to be possible a considerable amount of time and energy was expended on formulating and planning the event. Thanks must go out to all personnel involved, but especially to Squadron Leader Tim Carter and Flight Lieutenant John Allen, who took on the responsibility of organising the whole event. They deserve considerable credit for all of their hard work, especially as the Squadron has many ongoing commitments. Furthermore, the ground crew had to work tirelessly to ensure that both aircraft were available on the day, particularly as one of the jets was still on operations up until the Friday before the event. Indeed, huge gratitude should go out to the ground engineers, who have worked tirelessly to ensure the readiness and availability of the aircraft throughout its service.

Additionally, Warrant Officer 1 Ian Knapp (5 Squadron) and Flight Sergeant Marcus Doona (Air Warfare Centre Force Protection Threats Team) deserve significant praise for the fantastic job they did in preparing Force Element personnel for the parade. It was quite clear that drill practice had not been conducted by some for many a year!

All in all, the day was a great success, with all who attended having a thoroughly enjoyable time, despite the mixed emotions. It was the perfect way to retire an aircraft that has been a true asset to the Royal Air Force and wider defence community for so many years.

No 51 Squadron can now look to the future and concentrate on a new aircraft and with it, a brand new adventure. Training has already begun for the aircrew, at United States Air Force Base Offutt, Nebraska, where they are learning to operate on the RC-135 Rivet Joint, ready for the delivery of the UK’s first aircraft in late 2013.

By Sergeant Lee Scheere