David Ellery June 20, 2012
The US Navy P-8 Poseidon touches down. The plane was at Fairburn RAAF Base today. David Ellery Defence writer Canberra Times 0487 190 864 20120614ran8085170_158.jpg
Eagle-eyed Canberra skywatchers could have been forgiven for thinking United States President Barack Obama had escaped Julia Gillard's economics class at the G20 summit in Mexico to make a flying visit here while the school ma'am was away yesterday.
A very large plane, clearly marked in US livery and with the word Navy stencilled on the sides, spent much of the day at RAAF Base Fairbairn. And, significantly, it was parked in the same spot Air Force One had rested last October.
Ms Gillard has been playing on her credentials as a former education minister to lecture the recalcitrant G19 on the errors of their profligate, big spending, deficit inducing ways and has reportedly mastered the art of emptying a conference room in the process.
''Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to manage the economy,'' European Union Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso reportedly harrumphed.
The plane turned out to be a Boeing P-8A Poseidon, the aircraft Australia plans to use as the replacement for the venerable P-3 Orions that have been in service as submarine hunters and maritime reconnaissance planes for 50 years now.
The plan is to replace 18 Orions, which were based on the all but forgotten L-88 Electra airliner designed in the 1950s, with eight Poseidons and an as-yet unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles as part of the Air 7000 program.
A US Navy plane, the aircraft has been in Western Australia taking part in Exercise Tamex, an anti-submarine warfare exercise, with the RAAF and the RAN.
Built from the ground up as a military aircraft but based on the Boeing 737, the Poseidon looked smart in its light teal livery at Fairbairn.
A walk around the aircraft revealed sophisticated sensor devices, amazing looking wing extensions and a weapons bay at the back big enough to take the family car.
Asked what set the P-8 apart from its 50-year-old predecessor, our US Navy guide pointed to the fact he was now flying in a 21st century plane, with all the improvements in electronics systems that implied.
The P-8 also has the advantage that it gets you where you are going faster. Its cruising speed is 440 knots (850km/h) compared with the propeller driven P-3's still impressive 328 knots or 610 km/h.