Construction on the first P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft for New Zealand has begun with a keel-laying ceremony held by Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems.
This process, also called ‘keeling,’ was done at the Spirit AeroSystems facility where all Boeing 737 fuselages, nacelles and pylons are designed and built. Laying the keel is an important production milestone during the build of any ship or aircraft and represents the cornerstone of this latest P-8, Boeing said.
“Today’s keeling ceremony is the beginning of a new era for New Zealand’s maritime patrol and response capability. Our four P-8A Poseidons will better equip our defense forces to extend their reach into the Pacific and beyond, working with our partners and friends,” Rosemary Banks, New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, who was on hand to witness the keeling, commented.
An aircraft keel runs the length of the fuselage belly. The keel beam on a P-8 is different from the typical 737 keel beam, as it includes unique aspects of the P-8 configuration, such as the integration of an internal weapons bay.
“The excitement of seeing this come together was contagious,” said Brian Stuart, P-8 program manager for New Zealand. “Not only are we kicking off the journey to the first New Zealand P-8A delivery, but we are strengthening our relationships with suppliers like Spirit as well as our US Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force customers.”
The panel and other fuselage components will be completed on Spirit’s existing 737 production line. Spirit will ship the P-8A fuselage to a Boeing Commercial Airplanes facility in Renton, Washington for final assembly. After that, Boeing Defense, Space & Security employees will install mission systems and complete testing prior to delivery to New Zealand later this year.
In total, four Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will eventually replace New Zealand’s current fleet of five active P-3K2 Orion aircraft. The Royal New Zealand Air Force has already retired the first of its six aging Orions, with the first airframe bowing out of service in September 2021, after over 50 years of operations.
The construction of the first Poseidon MPA began some two years after New Zealand started work on new infrastructure at Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea that will support the new fleet of aircraft.
New Zealand is one of eight global P-8 customers, with current operators including the US Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Indian Navy, United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Norway’s Royal Norwegian Air Force.