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  • Writer's pictureAvro Heritage Museum

ON THIS DAY: 28th June 1968

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

The first flight of XV226, the first production Hawker Siddeley Nimrod

By the early 1960s, the Royal Air Force’s airborne maritime reconnaissance capability was almost entirely in the hands of a still relatively new aircraft, the Avro Shackleton. However, the Shackleton was soon outdated as technologies quickly developed on both sides in these early days of the Cold War. Due to this, Air Staff Requirement 381 was put out for a similarly capable aircraft, with longer range and the ability to not only be able to fly to a mission with considerable speed (preferred for tactical purposes) but also an ability to fly low and slow over the water for a more effective use of the onboard radar and for the crew to be able to identify targets visually.

The Avro Shackleton, the aircraft the Nimrod was developed to replace.

The preferred airframe of choice was a DeHavilland design, the DH106 Comet Jet Airliner, an aircraft which previously gained fame for being the first passenger airliner to be powered solely by Jet Engines. It was however proven that the comet design alone would not be sufficient for our new MR aircraft.

Two unfinished Comet 4C airframes were offered up for the Nimrod Prototyping, XV147 and XV148, which were modified to be Nimrod (type no. HS.801) aircraft in the following ways. Cosmetically, a Pannier was added below the original fuselage shape stretching from the nose (which was now altered in shape to a lower point) and stretched back just aft of the wings, accommodating the ASV21D radar, similar to that in the Mark 3 Phase 3 Shackleton.

(Left) Gilbert Whitehead, designer and leader of the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod team.

(Right) XV226 on the production line at Woodford, 1967.

This pannier also incorporated a weapons bay and the drop points for the sonobuoy system. The whole fuselage was shortened by 6ft forward of the wings, the tail fin was reinforced to cope with the additional load, preserving directional stability, and a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) Boom on the very tip of the aft end. The other significant difference was the omittance of the Comets Rolls Royce Avon engines for the more powerful RR Spey Engines, seen in the then new RAF Phantom fighter jets. The new engines meant the entire inner wing and intakes were reshaped also.

The RAF ordered 46 of the new HS Nimrod MR1 Aircraft, each requiring a crew of 14, and on this day 52 years ago, the first production airframe XV226 (meaning not developed from a leftover DH106 airframe) first flew from Woodford. She took off at the hands of Hawker Siddeley (formerly Avro) Chief Test Pilot Tony Blackman whereas 147 and 148 were flown by Jimmy Harrison and, for political reasons, DH’s Chief Test pilot John ‘Cats Eyes’ Cunningham.

XV226 performing flight trials sporting the typical Nimrod MR1 Grey and White Coastal Command scheme, 1969.

XV226 was kept at Woodford and, for some time, at A&AEE Boscombe Down for further evaluative flying. She spent time being used for both cold and tropical weather trials in 1969 and in 1970 she was adapted for autopilot development meaning she was not the first Nimrod to enter RAF service, this was XV230 in November 1969. XV226 eventually joined the Coastal Command fleet in 1973.

As with the rest of the Nimrods, 226 returned to Woodford in 1978 for conversion to the MR2 specification. The Nimrod MR2s lost their ASV21D Radars in favour of the EMI Searchwater radar system. The addition of AAR technology also meant that the range of the Nimrod was increased and so more responsibilities were undertaken, including but not exclusive to Search and Rescue and Anti-Submarine Warfare.

XV226 as an MR2, pictured are Avalon Airport, Australia, in 2005 in her penultimate Hemp scheme.

With the governments Defence review in 2010, there ended the service of the Nimrod with the RAF, and the cancellation of the BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 program, the final project undertaken at Woodford. After the last flight of XV249, a Nimrod R1 (used for signals intelligence) no more of the type operated with the RAF and the fleet were resigned to either museums or training schools. One of which was XV235, which had the forward fuselage removed and used by the Training School at RAF Scampton, where she remained until we acquired her at the Avro Heritage Museum in 2016.

XV226 currently resides at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in Leicestershire, she retired on the 27th April 2010 with special markings celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the type's introduction to RAF service the previous year. She continues to run (one of only a couple that do so nowadays) and Fast Taxi on their events days, however the future of the airfield is uncertain.

XV226 as she remains today, at Bruntingthorpe in the Nimrod MR2s final service scheme in Grey.

So today we bid happy birthday to XV226 the first of many Nimrod aircraft that served to protect us during its illustrious career!

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