Boeing has begun assembly on New Zealand’s first P-8A Poseidon aircraft, announcing it has this week laid the jet’s keel beam alongside Spirit AeroSystems.
It marks the first major construction milestone on one of four Poseidons headed to the New Zealand Defence Force.
According to Boeing, the process, referred to as “keeling”, was completed at the Spirit AeroSystems facility in Wichita, Kansas, where all Boeing 737 fuselages, nacelles and pylons are designed and built.
New Zealand has purchased four P-8A Poseidons, a multi-mission maritime patrol based on Boeing’s classic workhorse B737NG, to replace its fleet of six ageing P-3K2 Orions.
The Poseidon excels at anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and search and rescue.
The aircraft keel runs the length of the fuselage belly. While the P-8A is based on the design of the commercial passenger Boeing 737, its feel differs from the typical 737, in order to accommodate for an internal weapons bay.
The panel and other fuselage components will be completed on Spirit’s existing 737 production line.
Upon completion, Spirit will shop the P-8A’s fuselage to Boeing’s commercial facility in Renton, Washington for final assembly.
Before official delivery to New Zealand later in 2022, Boeing Defence, Space and Security will install mission systems and complete all necessary testing on the aircraft.
Rosemary Banks, New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, who was on hand to witness the keeling said, “Today’s keeling ceremony is the beginning of a new era for New Zealand’s maritime patrol and response capability.
“Our four P-8A Poseidons will better equip our defence forces to extend their reach into the Pacific and beyond, working with our partners and friends.”
“The excitement of seeing this come together was contagious,” said Brian Stuart, P-8 program manager for New Zealand.
“Not only are we kicking off the journey to the first New Zealand P-8A delivery, but we are strengthening our relationships with suppliers like Spirit as well as our US Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force customers.”
New Zealand is one of eight global purchasers of the P-8A, alongside Australia, under the United States’ foreign military sales program.
Current P-8 operators include the US Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Indian Navy, United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Norway’s Royal Norwegian Air Force.
According to Boeing, today, the operating P-8 fleet has amassed more than 400,000 flight hours around the globe.