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Spirit employees get first-look at Navy anti-sub plane they helped build

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Sep. 10, 2012, at 9:31 p.m.

One of six Boeing 737-800s modified for anti-submarine warfare and other duties for the Navy made a stop in Wichita on Monday afternoon.

LaToya Grady, spokeswoman for the Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, said the airplane, designated T-5, was in Wichita for Spirit AeroSystems employees to see. The fuselage of the P-8A Poseidon, as well as airframe tail sections and struts, are manufactured by Spirit.

Grady said she expected as many as 3,000 Spirit employees to view the outside of the airplane on Monday. It was parked next to a Boeing Wichita hangar on the east side of Oliver.

The airplane that arrived on Monday is the fifth of six P-8As being flight tested by the Navy.

Boeing has received $3.3 billion for production of 13 P-8As — including the six that are being tested — and spares and training devices. Three others have been delivered to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Grady said.

The Navy could order as many as 117 of the aircraft, Boeing said, which will replace its fleet of P-3C Orion airplanes. The P-3C is built by Lockheed and is a four-engine turboprop that was first delivered to the Navy in 1969.

Cmdr. Gregg Sleppy, who is directing the P-8A test program, said the airplane has a number of duties in addition to anti-submarine warfare, including anti-surface warfare, intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. The airplane is in the midst of the first phase of operational testing. Sleppy wouldn’t discuss specific capabilities of the airplane above that of its predecessor, other than to say it “adds some enhanced capabilities” over the P-3C.

Absent the Navy markings and light-gray color, the plane looks a lot like a commercial 737, but with about five times as many antennas and a teardrop-shaped bulb underneath the fuselage.

Mike Schwamman, Spirit’s program director on the P-8A, said the airplane starts out on the same assembly line as other 737s. Only after it is assembled by Boeing in Washington does its military configuration begin to take shape.

“It’s a beautiful airplane, a great product,” Schwamman said.

Besides Spirit, other manufacturing partners on the Boeing-led P-8A project are CFM International, Raytheon, GE Aviation and BAE Systems.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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