§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the cracks found in RAF Buccaneer aircraft, setting out the arrangements which he has made to avoid any consequential risks to those who live in the vicinity of the main Buccaneer base at RAF Honnington, Suffolk, his plans for the repair or replacement of the affected parts of these aircraft and the effect, if any, on the RAF's ability to fulfil its NATO and British national defence duties.
§ Mr. Speed
[pursuant to the reply, 5 March 1980, c. 219–21]: Most of the wreckage of the RAF Buccaneer aircraft which crashed in the United States on 7 February has now been returned to RAE 169W Farnborough, where it is undergoing scientific and engineering examination. However, at this stage it is not possible to be certain whether the metal fatigue evident in the mainplane front spar of the inner wing was the primary cause of the accident, or precisely why the fatigue occurred, since the cracks found in this aircraft and other RAF Buccaneers have not shown up on the manufacturer's fatigue test specimen. In order to explore these questions in more detail a programme of work has been put in hand to revalidate the fatigue testing previously undertaken on the Buccaneer. This will include further flight tests with a special instrumented aircraft which will be chosen from among the newest aircraft, together with dismantling for the most rigorous and detailed inspection—including if necessary, testing to destruction—of two other aircraft.
Pending the results of this work we have decided that the current suspension of Buccaneer flying—other than for urgent operational reasons—will continue. We have also decided that the aircraft which are at Nellis Air Force Base Nevada will remain there for the time being. It is too early to say when Buccaneer squadrons will be able to resume flying training, but it is unlikely to be before the second half of May and if we run into any unexpected complications with the investigations it could be somewhat later.
Special measures are being taken to ensure that the operational effectiveness of our five Buccaneer squadrons is preserved over this period. Aircrew proficiency will be maintained by continuation flying on other aircraft types and by regular training on flight simulators. The cracks which have been found in some Buccaneer aircraft are in process of being repaired. The aircraft will be maintained at their normal readiness state and will be capable of carrying out their war role if the need should arise.