The UK Royal Air Force (RAF)’s first Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft has conducted its maiden flight on July 12.
The aircraft, ZP801 named “Pride of Moray”, took off from Boeing Renton Factory at 10:00 a.m. Pacific and landed at Boeing Field in Seattle. During the 90 minute flight key testing took place before the aircraft touched down and moved to the next phase of preparation before customer delivery, installation of military systems.
The name, “Pride of Moray”, celebrates the Maritime Patrol Aircraft heritage of Moray as well as looking forward to the Poseidon’s future home in RAF Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland.
Following the first fight, the aircraft was transferred from Boeing Commercial Airplanes to Boeing Defense, Space and Security to be fitted out with the Poseidon-specific military systems at the P-8 Installation and Checkout facility in Tukwila, Wash. The aircraft is scheduled to be delivered to the Royal Air Force, initially at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, in October 2019 and is due to arrive in the UK in early-Spring 2020.
“It has been fantastic to meet with the Boeing team who build the Poseidon aircraft and to see our first Poseidon aircraft, ZP801, take to the skies on its inaugural flight. We look forward to the aircraft being delivered to Royal Air Force ownership in October”, said Group Captain Shaun Gee, P-8A Programme Director.
“The first cadre of RAF engineers and aircrew have been trained on the P-8A Poseidon which marks the resurgence of the RAF’s long-range maritime patrol capability. The Poseidon MRA Mk 1 will enhance the UK’s maritime patrol capability with advanced, state-of-the-art, Anti-Submarine Warfare and Anti-Surface Warfare sensors. This is an exciting time for the Royal Air Force especially for those based at RAF Lossiemouth”, said Air Commodore Richard Barrow, Senior Responsible Owner for the Poseidon Programme.
P-8A Poseidon is a military aircraft developed for the U.S. Navy by Boeing Defense, Space & Security based on its 737-800ERX commercial airliner design. It can conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), and shipping interdiction missions.
The sale of nine P-8A aircraft to UK was approved by the U.S. State Department in March, 2016 under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. In January this year, Boeing was awarded a $2.4 billion production contract from the U.S. Navy for 19 P-8A Poseidons, out of which four are destined for UK bringing the total acquisition to nine aircraft.
UK manufacturers also provide specialist sub-systems for the P-8A, for example Marshall Aerospace & Defence Group (auxiliary fuel tanks), Martin Baker (crew seats), GE (Weapon Pylons) and GKN Aerospace (windshields).
The P-8A will be formally known in RAF service as Poseidon MRA Mk.1. According to RAF, the MRA in the designation reflects the types of missions the aircraft will undertake in its service – maritime, reconnaissance and attack.
The key role of the Poseidon MRA Mk.1 will be to help protect the UK’s submarine-deployed nuclear deterrent and its two new aircraft carriers. The aircraft will add to the UK’s surveillance capabilities and is designed to conduct anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare (ASW, ASuW), search and rescue (SAR) and intelligence gathering. They can be armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, and can drop and monitor sonobuoys.
In April, it was announced that RAF aircrew commenced the flying phase of training to fly the Poseidon aircraft. The personnel, from CXX Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, are being trained by a mix of U.S. Navy and RAF P-8A ‘seedcorn’ one-way exchange instructors on a course which covers a substantial range of topics. This includes being trained to fly at medium and low level over the sea, so that the mission crew can train in ASW and ASuW missions.
The first RAF Poseidon aircraft is due to arrive in the UK in 2020. The UK Ministry of Defence has already signed agreements with the U.S. and Norwegian militaries to cooperate closely on operating their P-8A aircraft across the North Atlantic.
The RAF’s new Poseidons will be operated by No. 120 Squadron and No. 201 Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland. On April 19 last year, the then UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson cut the first turf on a £132m facility for the RAF P-8A Poseidons at RAF Lossiemouth.
The United Kingdom is one of six international customers for the P-8A Poseidon.
As a direct commercial sale, India has received eight of the P-8I variant to date with four more in production. As a cooperative partner with the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Program Office, Australia began receiving their P-8A aircraft in 2016 with eight delivered and four more in production; Norway will begin receiving their five P-8As in 2022; both New Zealand and South Korea have signed agreements with the U.S. Navy to purchase four and six aircraft respectively.
The U.S. Navy is on contract to receive 111 with the potential for additional quantities based on the fleet’s needs.