As the P-3 Orion continues to serve in its 50th year it has seen its role but not its importance change. Originally designed to be an anti-submarine and maritime patrol aircraft for the U.S. Navy, its missions have expanded to include anti-piracy, shipping lane protection, homeland security, drug interdiction, fire fighting, hurricane hunting and more. One of our readers, Walt Heimart, referred to the P-3 airframe as a Swiss Army Knife, and that comparison is apt. The P-3 has conducted these missions not only for the U.S. Navy, but also for countries including Japan, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Greece, The Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Spain, Thailand and Iran. Even though its replacement, the P-8 Poseidon, is on the horizon, the Orion is likely to continue to serve whatever role it’s assigned with distinction for some years to come.
P-3 Orion Marks 50th Anniversary
Pulling worldwide duty five decades on
The YP3V-1 Orion buzzes a submarine during ASW testing in 1960. Since its service entry in 1962, the P-3 Orion has expanded from its core mission of submarine hunting into new missions such as anti-piracy, shipping lane protection, homeland security, drug interdiction, fire fighting, hurricane hunting and more. Lockheed Martin photo On April 15, 1961 the first production P-3A Orion was flown for the first time from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation plant at Burbank, Calif. This shot shows the aircraft (Buno 148883) during its christening ceremonies prior to the flight. The aircraft, which was redesignated NP-3D in 1994, spent most of its career as a flight test asset. Lockheed Martin photo A Japanese P-3C Orion from Detachment 33, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, Atsugi and an American P-3C from the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron 4 (VP-4) , Naval Air Station Barber's Point, Hawaii, part of the bilateral force during exercise RIMPAC '98, patrol the ocean near Hawaii. DoD photo by PH1(NAC) Spike Call An unusual view of a Soviet Tu-142 Bear being escorted by a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion from Patrol Squadron 45 (VP-45), Jan. 1, 1986. DoD photo P-3 Orions from Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22) over Honolulu, Hawaii, Nov. 2, 1964. Lockheed Martin Photo by Erik Miller A P-3C Orion attached to the “Tigers” of Patrol Squadron Eight (VP-8) heads to a bombing exercise loaded with MK-20 “Rockeye” cluster bombs, Sept. 19, 2002. MK-20 cluster bombs deliver 247 bomblets, which, upon detonation, release a jet of super heated and pressurized gas, which can penetrate 10 inches of steel and 31 inches of reinforced concrete. The weapon’s dispersion area is roughly the size of a football field. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Shannon Smith An Orion from Patrol Squadron 49 (VP-49) flying past Mount Etna while returning from a submarine tracking mission, Aug. 1, 1985. DoD photo Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3 Orions fly overhead during a formation in Annual Exercise 2011, Nov. 4, 2011. Japan acquired more than 100 Orions. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ian W. Anderson Republic of Korea Navy P-3 Orions and Canadian CP-140 Auroras staged on the tarmac at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, Hawaii, in support of Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006, July 20, 2006. The CP-140 Aurora and CP-140A Arcturus are variants of the Orion built to Canadian specifications. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon A. Teeples A P-3 Orion pictured landing at an unidentified airfield, circa 1965. National Naval Aviation Museum photo A P-3C Orion, long range, anti-submarine patrol aircraft, attached to Patrol Squadron 10 (VP-10) launches a Harpoon missile during training while a TA-4J Skyhawk training aircraft chases the missile to its target. DoD photo A P-3C Orion assigned to the "Skinny Dragons" of Patrol Squadron Four (VP-4) takes off on a routine training mission, Jan. 30, 2003. U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Photographer’s Mate Mahlon K. Miller A two-ship formation flight with a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion and an SH-60B Light Airborne Multipurpose System (LAMPS MK III), Seahawk from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL-45) "Wolfpack" over southern California. The exact date the photo was taken is unknown. DoD photo A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion from Patrol Squadron 23 (VP-23) "Seahawks" flies over a Soviet Juliett-class submarine in 1982. DoD photo A pair of Lockheed P-3A Orion aircraft assigned to Patrol Squadron 31 (VP-31), Naval Air Station (NAS) Moffett Field, Calif. flying over the Golden Gate Bridge. P-3A production ended in December 1965. DoD photo An Iranian Lockheed P-3F Orion aircraft in flight in 1988. The Imperial Iranian Air Force acquired six Orions before the fall of the Shah, and half are believed airworthy. DoD photo A P-3 Orion drops fire retardant on the Jesusita wildfires in Santa Barbara, Calif., May 7, 2009. As first-generation Orions are retired from military service, some are being bought and converted as civilian fire-bombers. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee The guided missile frigate USS Crommelin (FFG 37) and an Argentinean P-3 aircraft patrol the northern approach to the Panama Canal in search of a "suspect" vessel in support of PANAMAX 2004. Argentina originally received seven ex-U.S. Navy P-3B Orions. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ligia Cohen A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion from Patrol Squadron 40 (VP-40) based out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., flies on a routine mission near NAS North Island, Calif., Jan. 28, 2003. U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson An Australian P-3C Orion aircraft flying over Butterworth, Thailand, in 1990. The outboard engines are stopped, props feathered, to reduce fuel consumption, a standard Orion operational technique to increase endurance. Australia has acquired more than 30 Orions and usually operated a fleet of 20 over 44 years of service. DoD photo A P-3 Orion tracks a Soviet submarine through the Strait of Gibraltar in April 1970. Lockheed Martin photo Two Canadian CF-18 Hornets with a CP-140 Aurora fly in formation off the coast of Hawaii in celebration of Canada Day, July 1, 2006. The CP-140 is based on the Orion airframe, but contains the electronics suite found in the S-3 Viking. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason Swink The Soviet guided missile frigate Zadornyy underway as a P-3 Orion aircraft conducts flyby surveillance, Oct. 22, 1988. DoD photo The first P-3AM Orion delivered to the Brazilian Air Force, Nov. 25, 2010. Força Aérea Brasileira photo The first P-8A Poseidon test aircraft (left) flies with a P-3 Orion prior to landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on April 10, 2010. The U.S. Navy is purchasing P-8As to replace its fleet of P-3C aircraft. U.S. Navy photo