The U.S. Navy
has ordered the first two P-8A (Poseidon) maritime reconnaissance aircraft, for
$139 million each. The first P-8As will enter service in two years. The P-8A
is based on the popular Boeing 737
airliner. Although the Boeing 737 is a two engine jet, compared to the four
engine turboprop P-3, it is a more capable plane.
The P-8A has 23 percent more floor space than the P-3, and is larger
(118 foot wingspan, versus 100 foot) and heavier (83 tons versus 61). Most
other characteristics are the same. Both can stay in the air about ten hours
per sortie. Speed is different. Cruise speed for the 737 is 910 kilometers an
hour, versus 590 for the P-3. This makes it possible for the P-8A to get to a
patrol area faster, which is a major advantage when chasing down subs spotted
by sonar arrays or satellites. However, the P-3 can carry more weapons (9 tons,
versus 5.6.) This is less of a factor as the weapons (torpedoes, missiles,
mines, sonobuoys) are, pound for pound, more effective today and that trend continues.
Both carry the same size crew, of 10-11 pilots and equipment operators. Both
aircraft carry search radar and various other sensors.
The 737 has, like the P-3. been equipped with bomb hard points on the
wings for torpedoes or missiles. The B-737 is a more modern design, and has
been used successfully since the 1960s by commercial aviation. Navy aviators
are confident that it will be as reliable as the P-3 (which was based on the
Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954, although only 170 were
built, plus 600 P-3s. About 40 Electras are still in service). The Boeing 737
first flew in 1965, and over 5,000 have been built. The P-8A will be the first
737 designed with a bomb bay and four wing racks for weapons. How many P-8s
will be produced is uncertain, as UAVs are looking more and more preferable to
manned maritime reconnaissance and ASW aircraft.