The third day of our Boeing media tour of the PacificNorthwest afforded our pitiful hung-over band the opportunity to visit Boeing’s737 production line and to visit part of the P-8 Poseidon production line.
To build the P-8, which is basically a 737 Next Gen 800fuselage with 900 wings, Boeing created a third ITAR-compliant line to assemblethe jets. It also, of course, has all of its anti-sub and anti-surface,electronic support measures (ESM) avionics and what not… It also has better,more powerful generators. But it’s basically a 737 at the end of the day.
The ITAR segregation goes down to the sub-contractor level.Even the tail-cone is built at an ITAR-licensed facility in Korea. Boeing hasmade the process as painless as possible, but it still sounds like it’s aliving nightmare. But other than that, it’s basically identical to the 737production line.
Once the airframe is completed, it is stuffed at anotherBoeing facility in the Seattle metro-area with all of its mission systems. Believeit or not, it actually flies there… even though it’s basically down the street.
So far, Boeing has delivered five Low Rate InitialProduction Lot 1 jets to the Navy at Jacksonville, Florida. A sixth aircraftwill be delivered soon… but it’s not finished yet, so we got to go onboard andtake a look.
It is night and day compared to a Lockheed Martin P-3COrion. Instead of the cramped, battleship grey interior and what looked to bepanels and displays from well before I was born, the interior of the P-8 isboth spacious and extremely modern.
The flight deck is basically a modern 737 glass-cockpit witha few US Navy specific modifications–i.e. countermeasures and display pages tointeract with the guys in the back. The crew stations are awesome–large touch-screensand large format LCD displays. There is plenty of excess space for growth…
The Navy will buy a total of 117 of these jets along with the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton version of the GlobalHawk to replacethe P-3C. The P-8 is undergoing operational testing right now, it should bedeclared operational late in 2013.
The Navy is already planning a series of upgrades to thejet, that’s partly due to the service rigidly sticking to it originalrequirements–so features added to P-3 after those were set have to be added tothe P-8 later. But other features are designed to enable the P-8 to kill subsfrom higher altitudes.