First Mission Deployment for Navy's Newest Patrol Aircraft  

By Dana Treen, Friday, Nov 29, 2013  

Description: P-8A Poseidon Lands at Pax River (2010).jpgThe first squadron of the Navy’s newest surveillance aircraft took off from Naval Air Station Jacksonville at 10:02 a.m. Friday, with the sound of turbo-fan jet engines replacing the familiar roar of turbo-props that have been driving the mission for decades. “We haven’t done this for 50 years,” said Commander Dan Papp, watching the start of a new era as the first of the two P-8A Poseidon’s took to the air. “It’s a great opportunity to see what patrol aviators will fly for the next 25 to 30 years,” said Papp, who is the squadron’s executive officer. The plane replaces the propeller-driven P-3 Orion, a familiar sight over Jacksonville and Whidbey Island as they flew on missions and practice runs. The VP-16 squadron completed the shift to Poseidons in January. It was expected to be a long day of flying for the crews of the two specially fitted Boeing 737 jets that lifted off on the way to Japan, stopping possibly in Washington state or Hawaii. The launch had the typical bittersweet moments for the 40 or so crew members and family gathered on the flight line in a bright, but chilly morning. “I’ve been in that seat before, and as tough as it is, I’d do it again,” said Lt. Eric Frank, a P-3 pilot on hand for the takeoff, as he watched the two planes taxi off. There were tears from children and adults alike, though no one denied the mission has special significance. “We get to work with the newest equipment,” said Lt. Timothy Bierbach, who was also leaving family. From buttons and circuits to digital electronics, it will be a new world, he said. It was also a blessing, he said, to leave Friday instead of a week earlier, which had been his initial departure date as part of an advance team. With wife Colleen Bierbach taking pictures, he hugged and played with 3-year-old-son Braydon and 6-year-old daughter Addison, who climbed all over their father for the last time for seven months. They spent Thanksgiving together, the four of them, with tablecloths and candles. Addison described it as “the way Thanksgiving should be,” her parents said. The crews, along with several other Poseidons in the VP-16 ‘War Eagles’ squadron, will do anti-submarine work as well as intelligence gathering and maritime surveillance during the deployment to Kadena, Okinawa. They may also see work assisting with Operation Damayan, the U.S. operation to assist the Philippines recover from typhoon Haiyan. The Poseidon flies higher and faster than the Orion, but the mission remains essentially the same – but with enhanced capabilities. Crew numbers are slightly decreased from the Orion. It took months of training, including a trip to the Boeing plant in Seattle”, said Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Bachman, who was leaving wife Jena Bachman and 15-month-old Cohen behind. “It’s nice, new, everything is really great to work on,” he said. It rides differently than the Orion, too, Bachman said. “It doesn’t have that hum to put you to sleep.