The Orion ASW aircraft is a development of the 1950's vintage L-188 Electra Airliner airframe. Five Electras were operated from New Zealand by TEAL between 1959 and 1972. Developed as a successor to the P-2V Neptune, the prototype Orion first flew on November 25, 1959. (An aerodynamic prototype built by modifying an Electra flew on August 19, 1958). The first P-3A Orion flew on April 15,1961. The aircraft has subsequently been built in a number of versions, (including license built by Kawasaki) and upgrades. The P-3C with a heavier wing structure appeared in 1968, with subsequent avionics/ weapons 'Upgrade'versions. The Canadian modified CP-140 Aurora utilising the Orion airframe flew in 1979. Orions have been supplied to a number of airforces outside the US, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Spain.
The Orion has been operated by the RNZAF since late 1966. Five of the type (NZ4201-4205) were purchased to replace the Short Sunderland in the maritime patrol role. An additional aircraft (NZ4206) was purchased 'second-hand' from the RAAF in 1985. The aircraft were built to P-3B standard, but with on-going changes have become known as P-3K. The aircraft are operated by No5 SQN and based at Whenuapai (Base Auckland). The aircraft patrol New Zealand's 200 mile Economic zone, carry out ASW and directing maritime strike training, engage in SAR work, and some scientific work.
The aircraft, now in their 4th decade, received a partial electronics modernisation in the mid-80's. This included APS-134 radar, AA-36 IRDS and Boeing UDACS. The contract for the upgrade went to Boeing Aerospace, with the first aircraft being completed in September 1983. The other aircraft were modified by Air New Zealand as a sub-contractor to Boeing. Due to a lot of low-level operation, the aircraft have the highest airframe wear of their type in the world (the original five are all over 14,000 hours). The RNZAF began a re-winging programme, Project Kestral in 1997. The project also includes replacement of horizontal stabilisers, and refurbishment of the engine nacelles. This should see the aircraft in service till 2015. The re-winging has been complicated by the need to replace now unavailable P-3B wings with P-3C wings. The RNZAF and Lockheed Martin have worked in conjunction to develop solutions which will be of interest to other older Orion operators around the world. Parts for the project are being produced by contractors worldwide (including Lockheed Martin, British Aerospace, Daewoo, Pendle, and Rohr), and assembly is by Hawker Pacific in Australia. The first aircraft (NZ4204) completed this programme in September 1998. As part of the process, the Orions are changing to a low-viz grey paint scheme (see illustrations below). A further upgrade 'Project Sirius' is being planned (dependent on funding) to modernise the electronic equipment aboard these aircraft.
Despite the limitations on these aircraft, No 5 SQN pilots have won the annual Fincastle ASW competition (involving Australian, Canadian, British, and New Zealand crews) 7 times since 1964, (80, 82, 83, 88, 91, 97, and 98).
Last Update:- 28 June, 2000
I have only had one chance to photograph this aircraft, so I'm looking for an opportunity to get more. Remember to let me know if you have a request for an image of a particular part of the aircraft!
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