Monday, April 04, 2011

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737

Weapons Division to test commercial jet for P-3C replacement program.

Engineers at the NAWCWD Weapons Survivability Laboratory (WSL) added a new component to the P-8A Poseidon Live-Fire Test and Evaluation (LFTE) Program that could save the Naval Air Systems Command hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Paul Gorish, vulnerability engineer at WSL, found an intact commercial 737 aircraft that he incorporated into the P-8A LFTE Program, which the WSL is conducting for NAVAIR's Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Program (PMA-290).

"Being able to use this 737 airframe for our LFT&E program best enables the P-8 program to evaluate the survivability of the airframe in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible," said Capt. Leon Bacon, P-8A Poseidon team lead in PMA-290.

P-8A Poseidon is the replacement aircraft for the aging P-3C Orion. Its mission is anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. Boeing will build the Poseidon on a commercial 737 frame.

This retired Southwest Airlines 737 lands at Armitage Field in December to become part of the live-fire test and evaluation program for NAVAIR's P-8A Poseidon, the Navy's replacement for the P-3C Orion. Photo by Gary Brown.

This former commercial jet makes its way to the NAWCWD Weapons Survivability Laboratory at China Lake in December where it will go through live-fire test and evaluation as part of the P-8A Poseidon Program. Photo by Ray Hocker.

This former commercial 737 left the friendly skies and reported for ground duty in December with the U.S. government at NAWCWD China Lake. Photo by Ray Hocker.

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After arriving at China Lake, the engines, auxiliary power unit, avionics and windshield were the only things removed from this 737, which was recently retired from the Southwest Airlines fleet.

"It was so intact that the in-flight magazines were still in the backs of the seats," said Gorish, who came across this aircraft while shopping for individual parts.

The plane, which cost the P-8 Program about $200,000, landed at Armitage Field in December and was towed out to WSL where it awaits its first test, planned for this summer.

The original P-8 LFTE plan called for the ground-test aircraft (S1) to arrive at WSL in 2012, when Gorish and his team were to perform several tests on the fuselage and both wings.

"The test schedule for S1 was tight," Gorish said. "It was going to be a challenge to get everything done in the allotted timeframe. Now, we can offload some of the tests planned for S1 onto this 737 airframe and complete all tests as planned."

The purpose of LFTE is to look at how the aircraft will actually be used, identify potential vulnerabilities and then reduce those vulnerabilities.

"Our goal is to help the pilot and the plane complete the mission and return home safely," Gorish said.

The first LFTE test scheduled for the 737 will look at how the hydraulics in the tail portion of the aircraft react when hit with a threat. Another test will evaluate how the oxygen bottles will react to a ballistic impact in a fully pressurized cabin. Gorish and his team will build a surrogate refueling probe for the 737 to match the Poseidon's and test that too. P-8's fuel drain and ventilation system may also be tested on the 737.

Gorish said since the 737 and its subsystems are fairly intact, these tests can be performed more effectively on the 737 vice S1. It is also anticipated that the 737 will be a source of parts to build-up S1 into a more representative P-8A surrogate.

LFTE tests involve shooting various sections of the plane with different anti-aircraft rounds that it might encounter in theater. Engineers then assess the damage and use that data to improve an aircraft's survivability.

"We are very closely linked with PMA-290 and Boeing," Gorish said. "I'm so happy that I was able to get this 737 because it's like an extra insurance policy for the program."

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