Poseidon is Boeing's largest defense project in the Puget Sound region. Most of the 2,000 employees who work on it are locally based.
Boeing had a day of celebration Thursday in Renton as it rolled out a new U.S. Navy airplane with all the pomp and ceremony that a military brass band and hundreds of sailors in their dress whites could muster.
As the company struggles to get the 787 Dreamliner into the air in Everett, the Renton party was a welcome affirmation of what Boeing prowess can achieve.
The P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine and patrol airplane, a military version of the workhorse 737 passenger airliner, is a collaboration between Boeing’s military and commercial-airplane divisions.
Poseidon is Boeing’s largest military project in the Puget Sound region. Most of the 2,000 employees who work on it are locally based.
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The Navy will take 117 of the jets, plus eight test airplanes. Boeing anticipates about 100 orders from overseas, including Australia and India. The total program should bring in around $40 billion over 25 years.
Earlier this year, the first two flight-test airplanes hopped over from Renton to Boeing Field, where Boeing defense-side employees are installing systems. Flight tests over Puget Sound will begin in the next couple months.
The plane that was rolled out Thursday, painted white with Navy markings, is the third flight-test airplane.
Boeing hopes the success of the P-8A production model — modifying the airframes for the military mission while on the assembly line — will help it win the pending Air Force refueling-tanker contract, which would entail doing something similar with the wide-body 767.
At the ceremony, Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing’s defense division, thanked “the men and women of Puget Sound” who built the plane and added that Boeing “hopes to deliver a lot of tankers from here in the years to come.”
The P-8A is designed to patrol the oceans, flying low and slow with advanced surveillance systems to hunt enemy submarines, and with the weapons to destroy them.
Originally, that was a Cold War mission, with another superpower as the threat. The Navy wants to maintain that high-tech capability.
But if current anti-insurgency wars persist beyond the new jet’s entry into service in 2013, Navy pilots may also find themselves flying surveillance missions over land in support of ground troops.
Attending Thursday’s ceremony from his Whidbey Island station, Navy pilot Matt Frauenzimmer said he’s flown more than 300 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan on the current P-3 turboprop patrol planes that the P-8A will replace.
During the invasion of Iraq, he said, the Navy surveillance planes served as “airborne body guards” for combat troops on the ground, “looking over the hill at what’s coming at them.”
More recently, Frauenzimmer said, the planes have patrolled at night searching for groups planting roadside bombs that would threaten U.S. forces.
Navy Adm. Bill Moran, commander of the patrol and reconnaissance group, said that because of a shortage of reconnaissance assets, ground surveillance in the country’s two active wars now accounts for “60 to 70 percent of what we do operationally.”
“It was just pure necessity and lack of capacity defensewide,” Moran said. And after 2013, “if the world looks like it does today,” he added, the P-8A “will be deployed much the same.”
The Navy’s current Lockheed Martin-built patrol planes entered service in 1962 and a percentage are grounded for repair.
“We’ve gone about 40 years in the command without that new-car smell,” Moran said.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org