Stepping aboard the classy new aircraft, you notice the first-class leather seats and expect to see a flight attendant waiting to show you to your seat.
But though it uses the same airframe, this is not your average Boeing 737. It is the P-8A, the Navy’s newest eyes, ears and muscle in the air — and its first operational squadron is right here in Jacksonville.
Squadron VP-16 out of Jacksonville Naval Air Station, also known as the War Eagles, will deploy with the new birds for the first time when they head to the Western Pacific in December.
The P-8A Poseidon is replacing the Navy’s aging fleet of P-3 Orions, introduced in the early ’60s.
“It’s like going from flying a tractor to a Cadillac,” according to Lt. Cmdr. Bryan Hager, who has flown both.
Gone are the glass gauges and rigid confines of the P-3s. For the first time, pilots and crew will have seats that recline and bathrooms.
Check out more photos of the plane here
The cockpit resembles a computer lab complete with a heads-up display. All of this, pilots say, free them up to concentrate on other problems and threats that may appear.
“It really increases a pilot’s situational awareness,” Lt. j.g. Christi Morissey, a P-8A pilot, said.
The plane actually makes her a better pilot, she said.
The benefits of the new plane are obvious. Chief among them are speed and altitude. The jet-powered P-8A can fly farther, faster and higher than its aging, propeller-driven predecessor.
This gives the plane more time over the target area because it takes less time to get there.
“We can get somewhere so much quicker,” Hager said. “If you’re heading to a target that’s 1,200 miles away, it will take a P-3 four hours to get there. The P-8 can be there in less than three.”
Though it can do the job better, the job description remains the same. The Poseidon’s job will be anti-submarine, anti-surface, reconnaissance and intelligence duties.
Equipped with the newest technology, and resembling a flying computer lab, it can send video, photos and information to commanders in real time.
But it also packs a punch.
Among its armaments is the AGM84D Harpoon missile that can take out nearly anything that floats, according to Lt. Kenny Vanhook, assistant aircraft maintenance officer. “It’ll do some serious damage.”
In case of attack, the aircraft is also outfitted with a new laser deterrent system which diverts surface-to-air missiles by creating a distant heat source to attract their sensors.
The most critical advantage to the U.S. Navy, however, may be the cost savings in the age of sequestration, recent spending cuts affecting the military.
The Navy was considering the idea of reproducing the P-3, but Lockheed Martin, the builder of the P-3, no longer had the manufacturing facility. The P-8 on the other hand, is being produced in its civilian form — the 737.
In addition, the P-8 requires only nine crewmen, compared with the P-3’s 11.
But perhaps most important, the revered P-3s were showing their age. The planes were requiring more maintenance time for less flying time.
“You could take off with all four engines working and land with only two,” Vanhook said.