120 Squadron delivers the first RAF P-8A Poseidon MRA1 to the UK

On the 4th February 2020, No.120 (CXX) Squadron flew its new Maritime patrol aircraft the Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1, serial number ZP801 – ‘Pride of Moray’, from NAS Jacksonville Florida to RAF Kinloss in Morayshire, under the callsign RAFAIR 7078.

The arrival of ZP801 marks a new era for the Squadron, station and the Royal Air Force, as well as filling a gap in the U.K. maritime surveillance capability that has been missed since the demise of the Nimrod fleet in 2010.

120 Squadron Royal Air Force

CXX Squadron, under the command of Wg Cdr James Hanson, will operate the twin-engined American built Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 from RAF Kinloss, whilst runway resurfacing works are completed at its new squadron facilities at nearby RAF Lossiemouth. CXX Squadron are no strangers to RAF Kinloss, having previously operated the Nimrod MR2 from the now Army run base until they were retired in the 2010 Strategic Defence Review.

© Crown Copyright - RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP801
RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP801 – © Crown Copyright

CXX Squadron have a long and proud Maritime Patrol history, and aptly they were the first RAF Squadron to operate American Maritime Patrol aircraft in 1941 when they utilised 20 converted Consolidated B-24A Liberator Bombers from RAF Nutts Corner in Country Antrim, Northern Ireland. 

The B-24s were converted, having their armour stripped out and extra fuel tanks installed in the fuselage, which meant the aircraft and crews could endure mammoth 16-hour sorties.

During WWII CXX squadron were the RAF’s highest scoring anti-submarine Squadron, with 14 confirmed kills credited to them, long with shared credits of three further kills and damaging eight other submarines.

P-8A Poseidon MRA1

The Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 is powered by two CFMI CFM56-7B27E engines, and is to put it bluntly, a militarised version of the 737-800ERX, which features a strengthened fuselage for low altitude operations for utilization in its Anti Submarine Warfare role (ASW), for which it carries Torpedoes and sonobuoys. The P-8A is also used for Anti Surface Warfare (AsuW) and can be armed with Harpoon anti ship missiles.

© Crown Copyright - RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP801
RAF P-8A Poseidon ‘Pride of Moray’ ZP801 – © Crown Copyright

ZP801 (MSN 64175), The first of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1s ordered, first flew on the 12th July 2019. It was handed over to the RAF on the 29th October 2019 at Boeing’s facility in Seattle before being delivered to NAS Jacksonville on the 31st October 2019. The first fully RAF-crewed sortie on a Royal Air Force Poseidon took place on 4th December 2019, with a mixed CXX and 54 Squadron crew complement.

© Crown Copyright - RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP801
RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP801 – © Crown Copyright

ZP802 (MSN 64176) ‘City of Elgin’, the second aircraft for the RAF, made its first flight on the 19th September 2019, and is due for delivery to the RAF and 120 Squadron at NAS Jacksonville in the coming weeks.

Operations at Kinloss are expected to continue until October 2020, whilst the runway at nearby RAF Lossiemouth (Runway 23/05) is resurfaced, and the Lossiemouth Poseidon Strategic Facility is completed. Whilst at Lossiemouth, personnel from the Poseidon Line Squadron and CXX Squadron will be hosted by the resident 39 Engineer Regiment.

201 Squadron, who also formerly operated the Nimrod MR2 at RAF Kinloss, will stand up at RAF Lossiemouth to become the second squadron operating the Poseidon MRA1, predicted to occur during 2021.

The United Kingdom was the third country outside the United States of America to procure the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, with all nine RAF aircraft due for delivery by November 2021.

RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon ZP801 – © Crown Copyright

Other operators of the P-8 include the Indian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) both of which already operate the highly capable maritime patrol aircraft. India has ordered 12 aircraft so far, with their variant known as the P-8I, and have an order for a further 6 cleared for procurement, whilst the RAAF will have 12 P-8As on strength.

Subsequent foreign orders confirmed at the time of publication come from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (4), the Royal Norwegian Air Force (5), the Republic of Korea Navy (6).

Potential further purchases are in the offing from Canada (to replace their trusty CP-140M Auroras), Italy, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a shared-service operator.