DEATH OF A HUNTER?
Its March 2010, and the RAF Nimrod aircraft will cease to exist as a UK Military operational aircraft. On the 31st of March 2010, the RAF Nimrod aircraft will be chopped up, turned into museum exhibits and razor blades.
In wind-torn & rain-lashed North East Scotland, on the coast of Morayshire, lies the RAF base at Kinloss, & along with its sister station the former RNAS Lossiemouth, they have been at the front line of our defences since the outbreak of the Second World War.
14 Flying Training School became operational on the 1st of April, 1939. This was not, however, a posting that would suffer fools gladly. The scuttlebutt was of its proximity to the Arctic Circle, with bone-biting winds and eye-blinding snows. The truth did indeed approximate to the fiction: the weather could be, at the least, Baltic and with rationing and very basic billets, it was to be endured, not enjoyed. In fact a certain Group Captain ordered that nearby Burghead Bay should be bombed so that fish could be stunned to the surface and collected to supplement the Station’s rations.
As the history of RAF Kinloss shows, as the months turned into years, the Station’s flag seemed to be flying at permanent half-mast, as aircraft were frequently lost on training missions, with pilots being pushed through training to re-supply front-line squadrons. Here is a quotation from that history: “Sadly, many of those arriving at Kinloss for the first time saw the remains of aircraft around the airfield and at one time, even on Tolbooth Street, Forres (The nearest town).
The training of aircrew continued throughout the war years, until shortly after VE Day, it began its involvement with maritime operations. The Avro Lancaster was adapted for use as an anti-submarine and search & rescue aircraft, a role which it carried out with distinction for a quarter of a century, when it was replaced with the Nimrod R1. Perhaps some of us belong to a less sophisticated age, but the whine of a jet engine is as nothing to the threnody of 4 Rolls Royce Merlin V12s! If you find this hard to believe, seek out the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and judge for yourself.
There is a fine symmetry with the transition from the Shackleton to the Nimrod: the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-09’s main aim was to be the first to reach the South Pole. It missed its target, but only by 97.5 nautical miles, an amazing display of fortitude & endurance. The symmetry? The expedition was led by Ernest Shackleton and the vessel which carried them \south was the Nimrod.
The motto on the crest of RAF Kinloss is “Power to the Hunter” & from the early Eighties that hunter has been the MR2. Its operational duties are as varied and skilled as its namesake the great hunter from Classical Mythology. They range from communications and surveillance with ground forces, maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare & search and rescue.
The bomb-bay of the Nimrod can carry 9 Stingray anti-submarine torpedos, 150 sonobuoys; and for search-and-rescue missions air-deliverable dinghies & survival packs. They have been deployed in the Gulf since 2001, overflying Iraq & Afghanistan.
42(Reserve), 120 &201 are three of the oldest squadrons in the RAF, & perhaps those of us of an older generation can remember black-&-white photographs taken by Shackleton crews of Tupolev reconnaissance aircraft probing for weaknesses in our air defences, with the Soviet airmen waving across to their “enemies”.
As the present economic crisis sweeps the world, speculation abounds that the bases at Kinloss & Lossiemouth face closure.
Last December an MOD spokesman would only say that “These are challenging times and, like all government departments, we have to live within our means. We are looking at ways to reduce spending because we are committed to ensuring that resources are directed to the front line where they are most needed.”
Perhaps it will turn out that reports of the Hunter’s death have been greatly exaggerated, perhaps not, but a wise man once said that “In the land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King.” Power to the Hunter.