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P-3 Orion

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P-3 Orion
U.S. Navy P-3 Orion
Type Maritime patrol aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed
Maiden flight 1959-11-25
Status active
Primary users United States Navy
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Republic of Korea Navy
Number built Lockheed - 650,
Kawasaki - 107,
Total - 757
Unit cost USD$36 million (FY1987)
Developed from Lockheed L-188 Electra
Variants CP-140 Aurora

The Lockheed P-3 Orion is a maritime patrol aircraft of numerous militaries around the world, used primarily for maritime patrol, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare.


The P-3 Orion, originally designated P3V, was based on the Lockheed L-188 Electra, which met limited success as a turboprop airliner competing against emerging pure jets. The P-3 served as the replacement for the postwar era P-2 Neptune. The Orion is powered by four turboprops which give it a speed comparable to fast propeller powered fighters, or even slow turbofan jets such as the A-10. Most other similar patrol aircraft use this model, with Soviets adapting their own counterpart to the Electra. The P-3 also competes with the British Nimrod adaptation of the de Havilland Comet and the French Breguet Atlantique.

The first production version, designated P3V-1, first flew 15 April 1961, but by the time the first deliveries were made in 1962, the unified designation system made this the P-3. Paint schemes have changed from overall postwar blue, to 1960s white and grey, and 1980s low viz gray.

Over the years many variants have been developed. The technology of the P-3 is similar to the larger, slower, and more successful C-130 Hercules transport. Similar versions have been developed for hurricane hunting, and aerial surveillance with a rotodome adapted from the E-2 Hawkeye. Despite higher performance, the P-3 has not been adapted into gunship or ground attack precision attack platform, aerial refueling tanker, or attempted a carrier landing like the C-130.

The United States Navy's P-3s are slated for replacement between 2010 - 2013 by the P-8 Poseidon, based on the Boeing 737 family of civil airliners.


Armed US P-3C Orion
File:Helice HS 54H60-77.JPG
Allison T56-A-14 prop

The P-3 has an internal bomb bay under the front fuselage, as well as underwing stations which can carry missiles such as the AGM-84 Harpoon. It has a long 'stinger' in the tail which houses the magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), and convex windows for observation. Sonobuoys can be dropped from externally loaded tubes (P-3C and later) or from inside the fuselage.

Engine loiter shutdown

On many missions, an engine is often shut down (usually engine Number One, the left outer engine) once on station to extend the time aloft (and range when at low level) by conserving fuel. On occasion both outboard engines will be shut down, aircraft weight, weather, and remaining fuel permitting. Long border patrol missions can last over 10 hours, and may include extra pilots and crew. The record for the longest flight for a P-3 model is 21.5 hours, on a flight undertaken by the Royal New Zealand Air Force's No. 5 Squadron in 1972.

Engine Number one is the primary engine for 3-engine loiter shutdown because it is the only one of the P-3's four engines that does not have a generator, hence it is not needed for powering onboard electrical systems. It also removes the exhaust stream for that engine, increasing the visibility from the primary observer stations on the port side of the aircraft.

Crew complement in U.S. service

Ten to twelve (10-12) crew members:

  • Aircraft Commander or Patrol Plane Commander ("PPC")
  • Co-pilot ("2P")
  • Third-pilot ("3P")
  • Flight Engineer (FE)
  • Second Flight Engineer (2FE)
  • Tactical Coordinator (TACCO)
  • Navigator/Communicator (NAV/COM)
  • Acoustic Sensor Operator 1 (Sensor 1)
  • Acoustic Sensor Operator 2 (Sensor 2)
  • Non-acoustic Sensor Operator, Radar/MAD (Sensor 3)
  • In-flight Technician (IFT)
  • Ordnanceman (ORD)**No longer used** (IFT has assumed duties)

Other operators have a varying number of crew on board, depending on their equipment fitout and aircraft role. For example, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft do not have a dedicated Ordnancemen, with that role on the aircraft being supplied by spare crew members from any of the other categories. Also, the RAAF aircraft operate with a ESM operator (Sensor 4), a Sensor Employment Manager (SEM) and a second Flight Engineer (with no In-Flight technician)

Operational history

Hainan Island incident

In April 2001 an aerial collision between a United States Navy EP-3E Aries II, a signals reconnaissance version of the P-3C Orion, and a People's Liberation Army Navy J-8IIM fighter jet resulted in an international incident between the United States and China. The J-8IIM fighter crashed and its pilot was killed; the EP-3 made an emergency landing on Hainan and the crew and plane were detained by Chinese authorities.

Civilian uses

File:Fox-firebase-aero union-N920AU-070904-02-24.jpg
Aero Union P-3A Orion taking off from Fox Field, Lancaster, California, to fight the North Fire.

A number of P-3s have been N-registered and are operated by civilian agencies. The United States Customs Service has a number of P-3A and P-3Bs used for maritime patrol. NOAA operates two WP-3D variants specially modified for hurricane research. One P-3B, N426NA, is used by NASA as an earth-science suborbital research platform for NASA, based at Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.

Aero Union, Inc., operates eight P-3As configured as air tankers, which are leased to the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and other agencies for firefighting use. A number of these were involved in a U.S. Forest service scandal.

A P-3 of the Royal New Zealand Air Force participated in the search of a missing boat.


File:P-3A VP-49 1964.jpg
P-3A of VP-49 in the original blue/white colours
File:P-3B DN-SC-82-02246.JPEG
P-3B of VP-6 near Hawaii
File:P-3B RNZAF USN MirageIII RAAF 1983.jpeg
P-3Bs of the No. 5 Sqn, Royal New Zealand Air Force
File:P-3K 5Sqn NZ4203 1.jpg
RNZAF P-3KII in Antartica, 2006
US P-3C Orion of VP-8
WP-3D Hurricane Hunters
File:EP-3E DN-SD-07-09322.JPEG
EP-3E Aries II, 2006
File:P-3F DN-SN-95-01263.JPEG
P-3F of the Iranian Air Force
File:P-3W RAAF 11 Sqn 1990.jpeg
P-3W, 11 Sqn RAAF, in 1990
File:Lockheed CP-140 Canada 140102 ETNG.jpg
Canadian CP-140 in June 2007
File:CBP P-3 Orion.jpg
P-3AEW&C to track drug couriers
  • P-3A: The original production version; 157 built.
  • P-3A (CS): Four with better radar, for the U.S. Customs.
  • EP-3A: Seven modified for electronic reconnaissance testing.
  • NP-3A: Three modified for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
  • RP-3A: Two modified for scientific uses, for the Oceanographic Development Squadron at NAS Patuxent River.
  • TP-3A: 12 modified for training duties, with all the ASW gear removed.
  • UP-3A: 38 used as utility transports, with all the ASW gear removed.
  • VP-3A: Three WP-3As and two P-3As converted into VIP/staff transports.
  • WP-3A: Four converted for weather reconnaissance.
  • P-3B : The second main production version.
  • EP-3B : Two P-3As converted into ELINT aircraft, during the Vietnam War.
  • NP-3B : One P-3B converted into a testbed, for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
  • P-3BR : Modification to P-3A model for Brazilian Air Force. Eight aircraft with EADS avionics.[1]
  • P-3C : The third main production version.
    • P-3C Update I : With new and improved avionics, 31 built.
    • P-3C Update II : With infra-red detection, sonobuoy reference systems, and able to carry the Harpoon anti-ship missile, 44 built.
    • P-3C Update II.5 : 24 aircraft with more reliable navigation and communications equipment.
    • P-3C Update III : 50 aircraft with new acoustic processor, sonobuoy receiver, and improved APU.
    • P-3C Update IV: AIP(US)/UIP(RNoAF)
  • EP-3 : ELINT aircraft for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.
  • NP-3C : One P-3C converted into a testbed for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
  • RP-3C : One P-3C modified to replace the RP-3A.
  • OP-3C : 10 P-3C converted to reconnaissance aircraft for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.
  • UP-3C : Equipment test aircraft for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.
  • UP-3D : ELINT training aircraft for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.
  • RP-3D : One P-3C modified for atmospheric research, to collect atmospheric data.
  • WP-3D: Two P-3Cs modified for NOAA weather research, including hurricane hunting.
  • EP-3E Aries : 10 P-3As and 2 EP-3Bs converted into ELINT aircraft.
  • EP-3E Aries II : 12 P-3Cs converted into ELINT aircraft.
  • NP-3E : Various aircraft used for tests.
  • P-3F : Six P-3C Orions delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force in the late 1970s.
  • P-3G : The original designation of the Lockheed P-7.
  • P-3H : Proposed P-3C upgrade.
  • EP-3J : Two modified from P-3A's for FEWSG use.
  • P-3K : five aircraft originally of P-3B standard but subsequently updated, delivered to New Zealand in 1965-67, replacing Short Sunderlands. The original P-3Bs were operated by No. 5 Squadron RNZAF from Whenuapai, Auckland. These received part of the P-3C update II package and some local innovations, then being designated P-3K (for Kiwi), together with a P-3B purchased second hand from the Royal Australian Air Force and brought up to P-3K standard. The aircraft were recently re-winged and are undergoing a further round of avionics and sensor updates in 2005 (P-3KII).
  • P-3N : Two P-3B modified for coastguard missions for the RNoAF.
  • P-3P : Six ex-RAAF originally of P-3B standard but subsequently updated for the Portuguese Air Force. They are now being replaced by newer P-3C Update II.5 formerly operated by the Royal Netherlands Navy.
  • P-3T : Two P-3A modified for Royal Thai Navy.
    • VP-3T : One P-3A modified for Royal Thai Navy VIP use and some surveillance operations.
  • P-3W : Designation used internally by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to distinguish the first 10 P-3C aircraft procured in the P-3C Update 2 configuration (1978-79) from the second 10 aircraft which were procured in the Update 2.5 configuration (1982-83). The older aircraft were designated as P-3Cs and the newer aircraft P-3Ws. All were equipped with the British AQS-901 Acoustics Processor. Eventually with various system upgrades to the mission systems the two types mergerd into one and they are now all known as AP-3Cs
  • AP-3C : All the Royal Australian Air Force P-3C/W aircraft which have been fully upgraded with totally new mission systems by L-3 Communications to include an Elta SAR/ISAR RADAR and a GD-Canada Acoustic Processor system.
    • TAP-3: 3 modified B-models for training duties with the Royal Australian Air Force, with all the ASW gear removed and passenger seating installed. Removed from service with the full introduction into service of the AP-3C Simulator. Designator reflected them as being 'Training Australian P-3'
  • P-3CK: Designation of the eight former P-3B aircraft that the Republic of Korea Navy procured from the USN and which are in the process of being rebuilt with P-3C configuration wings and fitted with updated Mission System Equipment by Korea Aerospace Industries and L-3 Communications.
  • P-3AEW&C (originally nicknamed "Sentinel") : Eight P-3B aircraft were converted into Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. The P-3AEW&Cs are used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for drug interdiction and homeland security missions. "Slicks" are P-3s with an optical sensor turret in the nose which often work with the AEW ships.
  • CP-140 Aurora : Longe-range maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare aircraft for the Canadian Armed Forces. It is based on the P-3 Orion airframe, but mounts the more advanced electronics suite of the S-3 Viking.
  • CP-140A Arcturus : Three CP-140s without the ASW equipment installed for Aurora crew training and various coastal patrol missions.
  • Orion 21 proposed new-build and improved variant for P-3 Orion replacement; lost to Boeing P-8.
  • In late 2006, the US announced that it intended to sell three P-3C Orions equipped with the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 AEW system to the Pakistan Navy, along with 10 regular P-3Cs. The AEW aircraft will provide Pakistan with search surveillance and control capability for maritime operations.[2]


Template:Country data Argentina

|6 P-3B |Base Aeronaval Alte. Zar, Trelew

Template:Country data Australia

|19 AP-3C (10 Sqn, 11 Sqn) |RAAF Base Edinburgh

Template:Country data Brazil

|8 P-3A(BR) in 2008 |forming at Base Aerea de Santa Cruz or Base Aerea de Salvador.

Template:Country data Chile

|4 P-3A |Base Aeronaval Torquemada, Con-Con

Template:Country data Germany

|8 P-3C (ex Dutch Navy) |NAS Nordholz, Marinefliegergeschwader 3 Graf Zeppelin

Template:Country data Greece

|6 P-3B |Eleusina Air Base

Template:Country data Iran

| 5 P-3F (71ASW SQN) |Shiraz International Airport (Tadayon Air Base)

Template:Country data Japan

|101 P-3C, 5 EP-3, 1 UP-3C, 3 UP-3D |Various

Template:Country data Republic of China

|12 P-3C (Ordered - replacing S-2 Tracker) |Taoyuan Air Base

Template:Country data South Korea

|8 P-3C, 8 P-3CK |Pohang Air Base, Cheju-Do Air Base

|6 P-3K (5 Sqn) |RNZAF Base Auckland

Template:Country data Norway

|4 P-3C, 2 P-3N (333 Sqn) |Andøya Air Station

Template:Country data Pakistan

| 10 P-3C & 3 P-3 AEW Requested |PAF Base Faisal, Karachi

Template:Country data Portugal

|5 P-3C (Squadron 601) |Air Base 6 - Montijo

Template:Country data Spain

|2 P-3A, 5 P-3B |Morón Air Base

Template:Country data Thailand

|2 P-3T, 1 VP-3T |RTNAB U-Tapao (102 Sqn)

Template:Country data United States

|161 P-3C[3] |Various bases

|P-3 AEW[4] |Corpus Christi, Texas

|8 P-3A[5] |Chico, California

Specifications (P-3C Orion)

Template:Aircraft specification


External links

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See also

Template:US patrol aircraft Template:USN patrol aircraft