June 23, 2009: The U.S. Navy has increased its order for its new P-8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft, from 114 to 123. The navy has found more uses for the new aircraft, which will replace 161 elderly P-3Cs. The first two P-8 development aircraft recently flew for the first time. A third development P-8 will fly before the end of the year.
The U.S. Navy is using a militarized version of the Boeing 737 airliner as the P-8A. The B-737 has been used successfully since the 1960s as an airliner. It first flew in 1965, and over 5,000 have been built.
Thus the P-8A is a modified Boeing 737-700C commercial aircraft. Earlier, in 2001, the navy began using the 737 as a cargo/passenger transport (the C-40A), and 19 have been built, eleven for the navy (the rest for the air force). The 78 ton aircraft can carry 121 passengers, or eight cargo pallets (or a combination of both, usually three pallets and 70 passengers.) Max range is 5,600 kilometers. It normally carries a crew of five (two pilots, one crew chief, one loadmaster and one transport safety specialist, which is what the navy calls a flight attendant). The air force got four V-40Bs, which are basically executive transports, that can also operate as airborne headquarters. The other six air force aircraft are C-40Cs, which is basically the same as the C-40A. The C-40A is operated by navy reservists, and is mainly used to rush needed parts or personnel to where the fleet needs them. The C-40A replaced the C-137 (a military version of the 148 ton B-707.)
The P-8 version of the B-737 has a cruise speed for the 737 to 910 kilometers an hour and a crew of 10-11 pilots and equipment operators. The P-8A has hard points on the wings for torpedoes or missiles. The P-8A will be the first 737 designed with a bomb bay and four wing racks for weapons. The P-8 costs about $275 million each. The navy also plans to order another seven C-40As.
New sensors are cheaper, lighter and more reliable. So the P-8 will also be available for land reconnaissance (as P-3Cs are already being used) and for electronic reconnaissance as well. The navy expects the P-8 to be a very versatile and reliable aircraft.