Saturday, December 04, 2004

Boeing 737 converted to Bomber


Boeing 747 bomber Posted by Hello

SEATTLE -- Picture the Boeing 737 -- the small, stocky jetliner that's the workhorse of hundreds of airlines around the world. Now picture the 737 with missiles slung under its wings and a bomb bay in its belly.

Boeing is gearing up to modify its ubiquitous twin-jet, single-aisle airliner into a Navy patrol bomber called the Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, or MMA. The plane will have a variety of sensors to pinpoint a submarine’s location: anti-submarine radar, an electro-optical-infrared camera and Magnetic Anomaly Detection, or MAD. Rotary magazines will drop sonar sonobuoys.
Five tactical consoles inside will integrate information from all those sensors and inform the aircraft commander, headquarters and friendly units in real time.

What's more, the plane could launch Harpoon missiles from two racks under each wing, or from a weapons bay aft of the wing, which could also carry torpedoes, mines or nuclear or conventional depth bombs. The MMA will have a receptacle to take on more fuel in flight so it can extend a patrol for up to 21 hours.

The planes would replace the Navy's fleet of 223 Lockheed P-3 Orion undersea warfare and reconnaissance planes and EP-3E electronic intelligence planes, like the one forced to land on the Chinese island of Hainan on April 1, 2001, after it collided with a Chinese interceptor.

P-3s have four turboprop engines, and getting the Navy to consider a twin-engine turbojet wasn't easy. Boeing took a 737 to air stations around the country and Europe to show Navy aviators a twin-jet could do the job -- even on one engine if it had to -- and helped Boeing secure the contract over rival Lockheed Martin, which proposed an updated turboprop plane for the mission.

"I love the P-3," said Tim Norgart, who commanded a wing of P-3s at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station before retiring from the Navy and joining Boeing’s MMA program. "It always brought me home. But I can't see my granddaughter walking out to the flight line to a propeller plane in 2050."

The world has changed since the P-3 was developed in the 1950s, but the submarine threat hasn't gone away, Norgart said. Currently, 42 nations operate diesel-electric submarines, and that technology could negate America’s cutting-edge weaponry. "Can you imagine us deploying the (nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) Carl Vinson to the Gulf with one of those submarines unaccounted for?" he asked.

It shouldn't be that hard to imagine a civil airliner converted to a weapons-packing warplane -- the P-3 itself was based on the Lockheed Electra airliner. A British plane with a similar mission, the Nimrod, is based on the de Havilland Comet jetliner.

Under a $3.9 billion Navy contract awarded last June, Boeing will build seven 737 MMAs for testing. The plane's design has begun its 3,000 hours of testing in wind tunnels. First flight will be in 2008 and delivery in 2009. It would enter service in 2013. Ultimately, the Navy will need 108 of the planes, a deal that would be worth $20 billion.

A production contract will be good news for the city of Renton, Washington, where 737s are built. Boeing's factory there, with space for four production lines, went to two lines because of the worldwide airline downturn. The discontinuation of the larger 757 in October reduced production floor space even further. The 737 MMA will be built on a separate, security-controlled assembly line in Renton. The completed planes will be flown to Seattle's Boeing Field for modification into bombers.


Source:
http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,65817,00.html