Boeing delivered the first production version of the US Navy's new P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft on 4 March, the company announced.
The aircraft is the first of 13 jets that will be built as part of a low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract that was awarded in 2011 for the service. The navy ultimately hopes to buy 117 aircraft to replace its ageing Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion fleet.
If all goes well, the P-8A will be declared operational in 2013. The 737-800-derived jet is designed to gather intelligence, hunt submarines and attack surface ships.
"The navy fleet is more than ready to receive the P-8A, which will provide the users and operators [with] a step increase in mission capabilities," said Rear Adm Paul Grosklags, the navy's programme manager for maritime patrol aircraft.
Boeing's P-8 production manager Chuck Dabundo also expressed his satisfaction at delivering the first LRIP aircraft.
"Delivering this capability to the warfighter is the ultimate goal and we're proud to be able to meet our commitment and hand over the P-8A 'keys' to the navy fleet," he said.
Navy pilots have already flown the aircraft from Boeing's Seattle factory to its new home in Jacksonville, Florida, where it will be used to train new air crew.
While this particular aircraft is the first production article, Boeing has already built six test examples, which are flying out of NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, and two ground-test aircraft. Unlike in previous programmes, the military-specific modifications to the baseline 737-800 are installed during the regular manufacturing process, rather than post-production, to save time and money.