Spirit AeroSystems has begun production of the fuselage for the first Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime-patrol aircraft, a derivative of the Next Generation 737 under development to replace the US Navy’s Lockheed P-3 Orion.

Loading of the assembly jig began at Spirit’s Wichita, Kansas plant on 11 December, and the first fuselage is scheduled to be dispatched by rail car 100 days later to Boeing’s 737 final-assembly line in Renton, Washington on 19 March 2008.

The first P-8 is one of five – three flight-test aircraft and two ground-test airframes – to be built under the system development and demonstration (SDD) programme. Fuselages for P-8s and commercial 737s will be produced on the same line at Spirit.

Boeing P-8A in storm
                                                                                                      © Boeing

“We are on track and entering the build of the first of five aircraft with highly certain dates because we are integrated with the 737 production line,” says Bob Feldmann, Boeing vice-president and P-8A programme manager.

Changes to the 737 line required for the P-8 include procedures to comply with the security restrictions of US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and additional side stations to assemble and install the fuselage weapons bay.

P-8s will be completed on a third, ITAR-compliant, 737 final-assembly line in Renton. The first aircraft is to roll off the line in August 2008 and, after extensive loads testing, is scheduled to fly in September 2009.

After installation of the mission system at Boeing Field in Seattle, the first P-8 – aircraft T-1 – will enter flight testing in September 2009, says US Navy integrated programme team lead Capt Mike Moran.

Boeing, meanwhile, is nearing completion of the third of five software builds for the P-8. “Software is tracking right to plan,” says Feldmann. “In 2008 we will finish testing of Build 3 and begin working on Build 4.”

Build 4 is the baseline software for the first mission-system test aircraft, T-2, which is scheduled to fly early in 2010. The final software block under SDD, Block 5, will incorporate any fixes and additional capabilities from flight testing.

The US Navy plans to buy 108 P-8As, with initial operational capability scheduled for 2013.

Source: FlightGlobal.com