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Nimrod MRA4 Simultaneous Mission System and Air Vehicle Flight Testing

Andrew D. Gill, BAE SYSTEMS, Warton Aerodrome, Preston, Lancashire, United Kingdom
Ian C. Kirk, BAE SYSTEMS, Warton Aerodrome, Preston, Lancashire, United Kingdom


The Nimrod MRA4 was selected in 1996 as the replacement maritime patrol aircraft for the Royal Air Force. It is an extremely complex aircraft that integrates a new sensor suite into an essentially new airframe, based on the in-service Nimrod MR2. The basic fuselage structure from the MR2 has been retained but the MRA4 has a new wing, empennage, engines and airframe systems in addition to the new mission sensors and weapon system.

Classically, the airframe and its systems would be developed before any serious attempt was made to prove the mission capability of the platform. The MRA4 has required a new and innovative approach to flight trials born out of the necessity to compress the design and development phase of the flight test programme. Consequently, almost every time the aircraft flies, a mission crew is carried in order to perform sensor and integration testing in parallel with the traditional flight deck orientated air vehicle trials. Indeed, the bulk of the evidence the customer will have as to the mission capability of the platform will be gained in this way. Dedicated mission sensor trials now form a very small element of the overall programme.

This approach to flight testing has required a new and innovative approach to the complex task of sortie planning, bringing all of these elements together such that they don’t interfere with each other and that due regard is paid to the risk inherent in different sortie objectives. Sortie planning is performed on a joint Contractor and Customer basis with the Contractor (BAE SYSTEMS) responsible for the dedicated design qualification testing and the Customer responsible for the integration of simultaneous mission system assessments along side these activities. The sorties themselves are flown by a Joint Trials Team, comprising Contractor, RAF and QinetiQ aircrew and flight test engineers.

Since the maiden flight of aircraft PA01 on 26th August 2004, flight trials have progressed rapidly with a 3 aircraft design and development programme. The project has just flown its 100th sortie and to date the following elements of the mission system have been demonstrated: Searchwater 2000 Radar, Electronic Support Measures, Acoustics (including sonobuoy releases), Electro-Optical Surveillance & Detection System, Towed Radar Decoy, Sat Com, V/UHF & HF Comms, Link 11 and Link 16 datalink systems. These systems have all been tested in parallel with air vehicle trials that would have otherwise been performed as a serial activity. Even at this early stage therefore, the aircrew, engineers and Customer have a high degree of confidence that the final product is going to meet or exceed all of it’s maritime patrol, reconnaissance, search and rescue and strike requirements.

Tue, 2006-06-13