British Pilots Look Forward to Flying P-8 Sub-Hunter in UK

FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND -- For Flight Lieutenant Joseph Aronds, news that the British government has confirmed its intent to purchase nine Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft means that he may be able to move back into his Scottish home near Lossiemouth airfield in the not-too-distant future.

Aronds is one of 11 "seed corn" pilots and maintainers from the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force who have been stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, since 2012, flying the P-8 with Patrol Squadron Thirty (VP-30), the Navy's Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Fleet Replacement Squadron.

Days after Monday's contract announcement from the U.K. Ministry of Defence, valued at 3 billion pounds, Aronds' enthusiasm is unmistakable.

"I'm over the moon," he told Military.com as he offered a tour of the P-8 at the Farnborough International Airshow, where it conducted daily demonstration flights. "I think for the U.K. it's what we need, definitely what we need. It's theater-proof, it's upgradable … it's an amazing aircraft and I'm looking forward to flying it in the future with a U.K. crew."

That event is still a few years down the road. The P-8s ordered by the U.K. will be manufactured in three separate lots and delivered between 2019 and 2022.

But Squadron Leader Mark Faulds, an instructor pilot with VP-30, said he is already hearing from Britons interested in flying what Aronds called "the new kid on the block."

"I'm having a lot of interest from colleagues and folks who haven't even joined the air force yet," he said. "I had some air cadets asking me yesterday about the P-8, what's it all about."

Both Aronds and Faulds previously flew the Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft for the Royal Air Force before the aging Hawker Siddeley aircraft was retired in 2011. The BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 was initially intended to replace the MR2, but the program was ultimately canceled due to delays and contract issues, leaving a capability gap for the RAF.

The Poseidon, modeled after Boeing's commercial 737-800ERX, is a technological leap forward, Faulds said. He pointed to advanced capabilities the aircraft offers right in the cockpit, from infrared cameras to a sleek heads-up display.

"In this airplane, you get so much situational awareness as a pilot," he said.

The U.K. plans to use the aircraft for coastal maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and long-range search-and-rescue missions.

"There's a lot of smiling going on just now," Faulds said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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