First production P-8A Poseidon completes maiden flight


The first production Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft has performed its maiden flight. The aircraft is the first of six low-rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft being built for the US Navy as part of a US$1.6 billion contract awarded in January. Boeing is also building P-8s for India.

Boeing announced that the aircraft took off from Renton Field on July 7 and landed three hours later at Boeing Field in Seattle. The successful flight marked LRIP-1’s completion of final assembly in the company’s Renton factory and transition to mission system installation and checkout in Seattle. Boeing will deliver LRIP-1 to the Navy next year in preparation for initial operational capability, which is planned for 2013.
“This is the first P-8 that will go directly to the fleet in Jacksonville, Florida, so the aircraft’s first flight is an important milestone for the Boeing team and our Navy customer,” said Chuck Dabundo, Boeing vice president and P-8 programme manager. “We’re on plan to get LRIP-1 to the Navy in 2012.”
“As the Navy’s replacement for the P-3 Orion, the P-8A Poseidon represents the next generation of maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft,” said Captain Michael Moran, program manager for Naval Air Systems Command’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft programme office. “The fleet is actively preparing to receive the LRIP-1 aircraft and begin the transition.”

The Navy plans to purchase 117 of the Boeing Next-Generation 737-based P-8A anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to replace its Lockheed P-3 Orion fleet.

In order to efficiently design and build the P-8A aircraft, the Boeing-led team is using a first-in-industry, in-line production process that draws on the company’s Next-Generation 737 production system. All aircraft modifications unique to the P-8A are made in sequence during fabrication and assembly.

This is the first P-8A to include a new CFM International CFM56-7BE engine configuration that is now standard on all delivered Next-Generation 737s. The configuration is an improved design that includes high- and low-pressure turbine modifications. Coupled with drag reduction improvements that Boeing started phasing into 737 production earlier this year, it will result in lower fuel consumption and maintenance cost savings.

Separate from the production contract, Boeing was awarded a System Development and Demonstration contract in 2004 to build and test six flight-test and two ground-test P-8A aircraft. The first four flight-test planes are completing testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. The programme’s static test plane, S1, completed its test programme earlier this year.

The P-8A emerged from the cancelled P-7 Long Range Air Anti-Submarine Warfare Capable Aircraft programme that was begun in 1988, which envisioned an improved P-3. However, cost overruns, slow progress and interest in opening the competition to commercial designs led to the P-7’s cancellation in 1990. It was succeeded by the Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) programme, which was begun in March 2000. In May 2004 Boeing beat Lockheed’s Orion 21 proposal (a new build version of the P-3) with its modified 737-800 passenger jet. BAE Systems also briefly entered the competition with its Nimrod MRA4, but dropped out in 2002 after failing to find a US partner.

The P-8A is based on the stretched 737-800 with 737-900-based wings. It also includes six additional fuel tanks for extended range. The aircraft’s main role will be anti-submarine warfare and shipping interdiction, as well as electronic intelligence (ELINT). As a result, it will carry torpedoes, depth charges, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and other weapons, as well as sonobuoys.

The Poseidon is built by a Boeing-led industry team that includes CFM International, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Spirit AeroSystems, BAE Systems and GE Aviation.

Boeing expects to sell around 200 P-8As to foreign countries and has so far received one firm order, from India. In January 2009 the Indian Ministry of Defence signed an agreement with Boeing for eight P-8Is at a cost of SU$2.1 billion to replace the Indian Navy’s Tupolev Tu-142M maritime surveillance aircraft. In October 2010 India ordered another four aircraft. Indian P-8s will feature a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), which was deleted off the American aircraft to save weight.

Other countries that have shown interest include Australia, which wants to acquire P-8As and UAVs to replace its 19 AP-3Cs in 2016, and New Zealand, which may buy four aircraft.

Many countries are looking to replace their fleets of ageing P-3 Orions, which were first introduced in the 1960s and, by next year, the P-3 will join the handful of military aircraft like the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and Tupolev Tu-95 that have served 50 years or more with their original primary customer.

A total of 734 P-3s have been built, representing a moderately large market for replacement maritime patrol/anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Other older maritime patrol aircraft that are being replaced include the Breguet Atlantic, Beriev Be-12, Ilyushin Il-38 and Tupolev Tu-142.

Japan, for instance, is developing the jet-powered Kawasaki XP-1 to replace its decades old P-3C fleet while Airbus is offering the A319 MPA. Other aircraft on the market include the ATR 42 and ATR 72 in maritime patrol/anti-submarine warfare configuration, the Beriev Be-200, CASA C212 MPA, CN235 MPA and C295 MPA, and PZL M28B Bryza.