Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

End of era for old Nimrods marked at RAF Kinloss

Nimrod XV230 (Pic: AirTeam
The deaths of 14 servicemen in an explosion led to an inquiry

Commemorations have been taking place at RAF Kinloss to mark the retirement of the current Nimrod aircraft.

The Nimrod has been in service for about 40 years, but the deaths of 14 servicemen in 2006 after an explosion over Afghanistan led to a safety probe.

Squadron Leader Nigel "Buster" Edwards said the planes would be missed.

A senior RAF officer has told BBC Scotland he fears lives could be put "at risk" by the MoD's decision to withdraw Nimrods from operations.

The new Nimrod MRA4 is due to arrive at RAF Kinloss in July for training purposes - but will not be in operational service until autumn 2012.

Marking the last flights of the current Nimrod, Squadron Leader Edwards told BBC Scotland: "The job it's done has been very important. It's had a long and distinguished history.

"We do understand why she is going but we will miss her."

'Rescue priority'

Dozens of jobs have been lost at RAF Kinloss due to the withdrawal of the present Nimrod, a year earlier than originally planned.

The base is a major local employer and generates millions of pounds for the Moray economy.

RAF Kinloss
RAF Kinloss is a major local employer in the Moray area

Local SNP MP Angus Robertson praised the service personnel at the Moray base.

But he explained: "I am concerned that search and rescue operations may now not have the same capabilities until the replacement Nimrod MRA4 aircraft are introduced at RAF Kinloss.

"The Ministry of Defence must introduce the new Nimrods as a priority and ensure the appropriate capabilities are available to search and rescue as well as military operations."

Some experts claim that the MoD proposals to fill the gap do not stand up to scrutiny.

They say the C130 Hercules transport plane which may be used to carry out some of the Nimrod's maritime missions does not have the capability.

'Tasked as appropriate'

Aviation journalist and Nimrod expert Jon Lake said the withdrawal of the Nimrod this month was "ridiculous".

He said: "It is grossly irresponsible of the MoD. There is plainly not going to be just a capability gap but a capability chasm.

"The C130 can only do a fraction of what the Nimrod can do, and it is a cynical cost-cutting measure which will undoubtedly risk lives."

A spokeswoman for the MoD said that the work of the Nimrod would be carried out "by a variety of different aircraft, fixed wing and helicopters, which carry out the role that the Nimrod currently does".

She added: "They will be tasked as appropriate."

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