When the first Royal Air Force P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft arrives at RAF Lossiemouth it will be ready to fly with a UK crew on day one thanks in part to a team of RAF personnel embedded with the US Navy.
Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland is home to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1), a U.S. Navy unit which has within its ranks eight RAF personnel supporting the P-8A test programme.
Squadron Leader John Ryder is one of two RAF pilots serving on the squadron. He said:
"We're fully embedded in the P-8A Test and Evaluation process, which drives incremental improvements and updates to the USN's frontline fleet."
"Specifically we're focussed on Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E), a process mandated by the US Congress. During OT&E we assess the aircraft's effectiveness and suitability for operations but we also assist with Developmental Test & Evaluation, which verifies that technical performance specifications have been met. Therefore, since 2012 VX-1's RAF team have been a core component in making a state of the art aircraft even more capable.
"Consequently, by the time the UK's first aircraft leaves the Boeing production line, it's going to be an extremely versatile and well proven platform."
Squadron Leader John Ryder
Master Aircrewman Tristan Bushell is a Weapons System Operator (Electronic Warfare). He said: "I fly on the P-8A and help test the electronic sensors. We have the rare opportunity to get involved in the entire process, so we write the test, execute it and then analyse the results. It's been a really upbeat experience for us."
The Squadron is also responsible for developing tactics, an experience the RAF personnel will bring back to the UK. Sqn Ldr Ryder: "I flew numerous anti-submarine warfare serials on P-8A from Scotland during Exercise Joint Warrior in 2012 and the aircraft did the business. From that point onward, P-8A has only got better."
"More importantly we're going to have current, proficient and experienced RAF personnel ready to operate a UK flagged P-8A the moment we get it. In fact, US Seedcorn has achieved more than 15,000 hours on the aircraft already, with many operators having over 1000 hours each."
This view was echoed by MACr Bushell: "Because the aircraft is already deployed with the US frontline squadrons it's got a pedigree, and the fact that we're embedded in the programme means we already know how to get the best out of the sensors. Being able to see the latest software before we get our aircraft is a real bonus for us, we'll hit the ground running.
"It already does the job, it's good to go and it's got massive development potential which is planned for."
The RAF will receive nine Poseidons which will be operated by 120 and 201 Squadrons from RAF Lossiemouth.
©Crown Copyright Editor: Dylan Eklund