Thursday, 11 August 2016

Nimrod reborn

If you grew up in the 70s or 80s the RAFs Nimrod was a common sight on TV and in the sky. It was based on the de Haviland Comet the world's first Jetliner, sometimes referred to as the pregnant comet. There were several attempts produce a different version of the aircraft. The last 2 the AEW3 and the MRA4 never entered service but did cost a lot of money, the cancellation of the projects very near to completion was controversial as was the capability gap left by the MRA4.

Remains of MRA4

A lot of the MRA4s problems were put down to trying to graft new wings onto an old fuselage, designed and built before the days of computer-controlled machining, basically, every airframe was different. The decision to do this part replacement was always controversial, BAe did not want to do it but HMG insisted, the logic was unclear but to me, it seems flawed and possibly the product of some accounts wizardry. Now 6 years later we are left buying Boeing patrol Maritime Aircraft and the intellectual property to build half of a new aircraft.
The RAF still has large capability gaps, which need filling, the MRA4 for all it fault had some impressive capability, most notably it's range of about 7000 miles, which exceeds the range of any of the V-bombers. With a bit of work and a few 100 million quid, you could build a new aircraft using all the new bits designed for the MRA4, wings, engine, flight avionics. Design a new fuselage and you have a decent airframe with potentially many uses. Let us call this the Large Combat Airframe(LCA), it not stealthy it's not at the bleeding edge of anything, but it is big, it has a bomb bay and it can carry a large combat crew.
I propose the following:

1st Production line

First, a new fuselage is designed, with a bulkhead between the cockpit and the main body. That cockpit is a self-contained 2 man unit, that the crew enter via a ladder up the landing gear, possibly it has ejector seats. The tail is a V tail because while this isn't a stealth aircraft there is no point in giving it a radar cross-section bigger than needed.  The rear section is as bare as possible, perhaps some cables hanging down from the roof, for use later.
There is a full defensive avionics fit, and the passenger section can be empty and unpressurised. The rear bulkhead has a door in it and some steps for self-loading, or if it can be done, wide enough for parachuting from. There is at least 1 big cargo door, perhaps a full quarter section, through which modules/pallets can be loaded into the top floor pre confined for the specialised roles.
The only state of the art bits I'd consider is Fly by Light, as used by the Kawasaki P-1, which is fly by wire but using fibre optics rather than heavy wires and Power by Wire, partly used on the F-35, which eliminates all those heavy hydraulics and replaces them with light wires.
When it rolls off the production line underneath is a big hole filled with a stress-bearing structure to make the airframe flyable. It fully equipped with defence avionics it might even have wing hard points for general use but other than flying up to the enemy and waving it is useless.

2nd Production line

This is where the aircraft is specialised. 

Nimrod:Andraste Bomber standoff, bomb bus or patrol

If you want a bomber, you take out the lower blanking structure and bolt in a bomb bay, perhaps not the whole length of the aircraft. The front section is fitted with a designator pod, while the rear section has some extra intelligence gathering, extra fuel tanks go above in the unpressurised rear section so if it takes a small hit no problem.

Nimrod:Sulis Maritime Patrol

A bit smaller bomb bay, this time, the front underneath section if fitted with an observer post were the MK1 RAF eyeball can be put to best use. The rear module fitted with a module for dropping sonar buoys.

Nimrod:Toutatis Arsenal plane

Full-length bomb bay stuffed with all sort of effectors.

Nimrod: Coventina Forward refueller

With all the defence avionics you can put this a lot near the front line than a converted passenger jet, just put tanks everywhere.

Nimrod Belatucadros: Defended transport.

To haul personnel and machinery it to the hotter spots, perhaps drop them off via the back door. Use the bottom as a cargo bay.

Nimrod:Vinotonus Standoff Radar.

A bigger version of Raytheon Sentinel.

Nimrod:Visucius ELINT/SIGINT

Well it should be quiet with the Fly by Light

Nimrod:Alaisiagae Forward UAV/Drone control.

Pilots flying planes from Planes.

Nimrod:Clíodhna


Other users

If you were France/Germany/Indian or even the US you could buy airframes of the 1st production line and then fit them out yourself. You would benefit from the reduced cost of the production line of the airframe and then tailor it to your own use.
The US has made good use of the C135 in a fair number of these roles, and it wasn't designed for such flexibility.

Reconfiguring

If the production of a dedicated version is a 2 stage process then perhaps the 2nd stage can be undone, allowing a fleet to be reconfigured perhaps not on the front line and not overnight, but an airframe that could go from a transport to full armed bomber in a month would make for a very flexible fleet. It would also allow for upgrades with far less downtime.

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