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The U.S. Navy was about to kick off a new maritime patrol aircraft program when an unexpected glitch arose; a fire alarm in the building went off, interrupting the signing of key paperwork.
Undeterred, a contracting official grabbed the documents as she evacuated from the building to a parking garage. Once there, she and another official signed the paperwork on top of a Pennzoil oil box in a car trunk. What would later be named the P-8A Poseidon was born.
"That was definitely a commitment to get the job done," said Navy Rear Adm. Steven Eastburg.
That sense of urgency has guided the program since then and has helped keep the P-8A on budget and on schedule, according to Navy and Boeing officials who spoke at a recent ceremony celebrating the arrival of the first Boeing-built test jet at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., the Navy’s premiere flight-test center.
"There have been many long hours, many sleepless nights and mountains of intellectual and human capital expended to get to this point," said Robert Feldmann, Boeing vice president and general manager for Airborne Battle Management.
The P-8A, a modified version of the Boeing 737 commercial airliner, is scheduled to become operational in 2013, but the maritime patrol community wishes it were available today, officials said. The Navy is eager to field the P-8A because its existing maritime patrol aircraft are decades-old and wearing out, and because demand for maritime patrol aircraft is higher than ever in war zones, disaster-relief areas and anti-drug missions, officials said.
"The thirst for their services is unquenchable," Navy Rear Adm. William Moran said.
The Poseidon, which will perform reconnaissance as well as anti-submarine and anti-surface ship warfare, will improve "situational awareness" by providing a single, combined picture of the battlefield that can easily be shared among U.S. and allied forces. And because it will use a new, modern airframe, it will spend most of its time flying missions in the air – not sitting on the ground waiting for repairs.
"The designed capability and reliability of the P-8 will far surpass anything we’ve ever seen," Moran said. "It arrives not a minute too soon."