Through the windows of the flight deck, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Andrew Klosterman and Cmdr. Edward Kribs look out into the shrub-mottled, barren beige landscape of Fallon, Nev., like a scene out of Star Wars, Kribs notes. They begin to taxi a P-8A maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, a hunter of submarines, toward a perpendicular runway framed by distant hills ahead.
The pilots are here to test the aircraft’s high-pressure altitude performance. At nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level, Fallon is far from the vast oceans over which the P-8A Poseidon typically reigns.
They have no chance of achieving their mission. A third Navy pilot, Lt. Donnell Exum, has disengaged the aircraft’s flight-critical radar altimeter. And when a button overhead lights up red, indicating the failure, Klosterman and Kribs choose to stop, return the plane to the line and consult the maintenance crew.
It’s the right decision, and just one in a series of eight simulated malfunctions and decision-making scenarios that Exum will use to challenge his students this morning inside a ground-based, full-motion P-8A simulator at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, in Florida. Known as the OFT, for Operational Flight Trainer, the simulator is complete with a “glass,” or electronic, flight deck including high-fidelity touch screens and a head-up display. It involves far more automation than anything Kribs and Klosterman experienced flying the P-3 Orion, a 1960s-era, four-engine turboprop aircraft built by Lockheed Martin. The P-8A, which is replacing the Orion, is a military derivative of the Boeing Next-Generation 737-800 commercial jet and has presented these pilots with a new philosophy of flying—and of communicating with each other—they said.
With the aircraft now in full-rate production at Boeing’s plant in Renton, Wash., the Navy’s Poseidon fleet is quickly growing, and training on the P-8A is proving to be an increasingly urgent need in getting crews mission-ready, according to the Navy. That urgency is underscored by the widespread use of the Navy’s P-8As, especially in the Western Pacific.
The P-8A’s mission capabilities include anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and search and rescue.
“Information overload,” is how Kribs described the initial move to the P-8A. The veteran pilot’s 15 years on the P-3 included “front-row tickets to Operation Iraqi Freedom” in 2002—along with Klosterman, who also has flown P-3s for 15 years and, by pure coincidence, been with Kribs to every duty station since flight school. “Flying the P-3 for so long,” added Kribs, “you can imagine the habits we formed that we have to unlearn—and learn new techniques to get with this digital age.”
Read the full story in the April issue of Boeing Frontiers.