The British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) first Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, ZP801, has performed its maiden flight.
Boeing test pilots performed a 90-minute flight test after the P-8A aircraft took off from Renton, Washington. The company noted that the test flight marks a key milestone for the programme.
The Poseidon MRA Mk 1 will now be fitted with military systems and will undergo further testing prior to its scheduled delivery to RAF at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, in October.
ZP801 will arrive in the UK in early 2020 after additional preparation and training by UK personnel.
UK P-8A programme senior responsible owner air commodore Richard Barrow said: “This is a great milestone in the UK P-8A Poseidon’s journey to the UK, as we are one step closer to its arrival in Scotland.
“The platform will enhance the UK’s maritime patrol capability with advanced, state-of-the-art technology.”
Boeing is under contract to deliver nine P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the RAF. Based at RAF Lossiemouth, the aircraft will provide the service with a globally deployable fifth-generation maritime patrol capability.
The RAF will deploy the P-8A Poseidon fleet in support of maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and anti-ship warfare.
P-8A programme director group captain Shaun Gee said: “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.”
Working in collaboration with the British Navy, the Poseidon will help secure the seas around the UK and abroad.
Boeing sold the P-8 Poseidon to the British RAF after it cancelled the Nimrod MRA4 project, which would have served a similar role as a patrol and attack aircraft. The $3.9bn (£3bn) order was finalised in 2015 and approved a year later by the US State Department.
The aircraft are set to serve as air-cover for the UK’s Trident continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent and the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The P-8 Poseidon will also take part in search and rescue and reconnaissance operations.
At launch, the RAF’s P-8 Squadron will be outfitted with US munitions. However, the RAF has said that British-made weapons may be integrated in the future.
Originally developed for the US Navy, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon was first introduced in 2009. The aircraft is also used by the US Air Force, Indian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force. It holds a crew of nine and has a range of 1,200nm, allowing the aircraft to cover much of the Atlantic, as well as the North Sea and Western Europe.
The aircraft can carry a suite of armaments, including torpedoes, cruise missiles, bombs and mines. The Poseidon has a 37m wingspan and weighs 85,000kg. The aircraft also houses high-resolution radar, acoustic sensors and sonobuoys for tracking of ships and submarines.
Iran recently revealed that it had targeted a P-8 Poseidon flying alongside the UAV it shot down in the Strait of Hormuz in June but chose not to engage the aircraft.