Lockheed P-3 Orion: Difference between revisions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
(Military operators)
Line 55: Line 55:
**Radar/MAD/EWO (SS-3)
**Radar/MAD/EWO (SS-3)
**2 Acoustic (SS-1 and SS-2)
**2 Acoustic (SS-1 and SS-2)
*one enlisted in-flight technician (IFT)
*one awesome enlisted in-flight technician (IFT)
*one aviation ordnanceman (ORD position no longer used on USN crews; duties assumed by IFT.)
*one aviation ordnanceman (ORD position no longer used on USN crews; duties assumed by IFT.)

Revision as of 16:35, 20 April 2010

P-3 Orion
U.S. Navy P-3C Orion assigned to VP-22
Role Maritime patrol aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed
First flight 25 November 1959
Introduction 1962
Status Active
Primary users United States Navy
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
Republic of Korea Navy
Royal Australian Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Number built Lockheed – 650,
Kawasaki – 107,
Total – 757
Unit cost
USD$36 million (FY1987)
Developed from Lockheed L-188 Electra
Variants CP-140 Aurora
WP-3D Orion
Lockheed EP-3
AP-3C Orion

The Lockheed P-3 Orion is a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft developed for the United States Navy introduced in the 1960s. It was developed by Lockheed based on their L-188 Electra commercial airliner. Over the years, the aircraft has seen numerous design advancements, most notably to the electronic packages the aircraft carries. The P-3 Orion is still in used by numerous navies and air forces around the world, primarily for maritime patrol, reconnaissance, anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.[1]


The P-3 Orion, originally designated P3V, is based on the same design philosophy as the Lockheed L-188 Electra. It is not the same aircraft structurally in that it has had 7 ft (2.1 m) of fuselage removed forward of the wings, as well as myriad internal, external, and airframe production technique enhancements. The prototype YP3V-1/YP-3A BuNo 148276 was in fact modified from the third Electra airframe c/n 1003. The P-3 Orion served as the replacement for the postwar era P-2 Neptune and P-5 Marlin. The Orion is powered by four Allison T56 turboprops which give it a speed comparable to fast propeller powered fighters, or even slow turbofan jets such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the S-3 Viking. Many other countries have seen the value of this platform design and have developed similar patrol aircraft based on this model, with the Soviets adapting their own counterpart to the Orion, the Ilyushin Il-38. The P-3 also competes with the British Hawker Siddeley Nimrod adaptation of the de Havilland Comet and the French Breguet Atlantique.

The first Orion prototype was a converted Lockheed Electra.

The first production version, designated P3V-1, first flew 15 April 1961. Initial squadron deliveries to Patrol Squadron EIGHT (VP-8) and Patrol Squadron FORTY FOUR (VP-44) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland began in August 1962. On 18 September 1962, the U.S. military transitioned to a unified designation system for all services, redesignating the aircraft as the P-3A. Paint schemes have changed from an early 1960s blue and white scheme, to a mid-1960s white and gray, to a mid-1990s flat finish low visibility gray with fewer and smaller subdued markings. In the early 2000s, the P-3C fleet transitioned to a gloss gray finish with the original full-size color markings. However, large size Bureau Numbers on the vertical stabilizer and squadron designations on the fuselage remained omitted.

Over the years, more than 40 combatant & noncombatant variants of the P-3 have been developed due to the rugged reliability displayed by the platform flying 12 hour plus missions 200 ft (61 m) over salt water while maintaining an excellent safety record. Versions have been developed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for research and hurricane hunting/hurricane wall busting, for the U.S. Customs Service (now U.S. Customs and Border Protection) for drug interdiction and aerial surveillance mission with a rotodome adapted from the E-2 Hawkeye or an AN/APG-66 radar adapted from the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and for NASA for research and development.

The United States Navy remains the largest operator of the P-3, currently distributed between a single fleet replacement (i.e., "training) patrol squadron, 12 active duty patrol squadrons, two Navy Reserve patrol squadrons, and two active duty special projects patrol squadrons and two active duty test and evaluation squadrons. Two additional active duty fleet reconnaissance squadrons operate the EP-3 Aries signals intelligence (SIGINT) variant. The U.S. Navy's P-3C aircraft are slated for replacement beginning in 2013 by the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, which is based upon the Boeing 737 airliner.


P-3A of VP-49 in the original blue/white colors
Underside view of a P-3C showing the MAD (rear boom) and external sonobuoy launch tubes (grid of black spots towards the rear)
Allison T56-A-14 prop

The P-3 has an internal bomb bay under the front fuselage which can house conventional Mark 50 torpedoes or Mark 46 torpedoes and/or special (nuclear) weapons. Additional underwing stations, or pylons, can carry other armament configurations including the AGM-84 Harpoon, AGM-84E SLAM, AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER, the AGM-65 Maverick, 5 in (127 mm) Zuni rockets, and various other sea mines, missiles, and gravity bombs. The aircraft also had the capability to carry the AGM-12 Bullpup guided missile until that weapon was withdrawn from U.S./NATO/Allied service.

Crew complement

The number of crew on board a P-3 varies depending on the role being flown, the variant being operated, and the country who is operating. In US Navy service, the normal complement for a P-3C is 11.[1]

  • three Naval Aviators
    • Patrol Plane Commander (PPC)
    • Patrol Plane 2nd Pilot (PP2P)
    • Patrol Plane 3rd Pilot (PP3P)
  • two Naval Flight Officers
    • Patrol Plane Tactical Coordinator (PPTC or TACCO)
    • Patrol Plane Navigator/Communicator (PPNC or NAVCOM)
  • two enlisted aircrew flight engineers (FE1 and FE2)
  • three enlisted sensor operators
    • Radar/MAD/EWO (SS-3)
    • 2 Acoustic (SS-1 and SS-2)
  • one awesome enlisted in-flight technician (IFT)
  • one aviation ordnanceman (ORD position no longer used on USN crews; duties assumed by IFT.)

The senior of either the PPC or TACCO will be designated as the aircraft Mission Commander (MC).

Engine loiter shutdown

On many missions, an engine is shut down (usually the No. 1 engine - the port outer engine) once on station to conserve fuel and extend the time aloft and/or range when at low level. On occasion, both outboard engines can be shut down, aircraft weight, weather, and remaining fuel permitting. Long deep-water, coastal or border patrol missions can last over ten hours and may include extra crew. The record time aloft for a P-3 is a 21.5 hour flight undertaken by the Royal New Zealand Air Force's No. 5 Squadron in 1972.

Engine 1 is the primary candidate for loiter shutdown because it is the only one without a generator, and is not needed for electrical power. Eliminating the exhaust from engine 1 also improves visibility from the aft observer station on the port side of the aircraft.

Operational history

P-3B of VP-6 near Hawaii
US P-3C Orion of VP-8
Changing a tire on a P-3C

Developed during the Cold War, the P-3's primary mission was to track and eliminate ballistic missile and fast attack submarines in the event of war. Reconnaissance missions in international waters led to occasions where Soviet fighters would "bump" a U.S. Navy P-3 or other P-3 operators such as the Royal Norwegian Air Force. On one occasion in the 1980s the MiG and pilot did not survive the "bump" while trying to ward off a P-3 photographing a Soviet fleet exercise.[citation needed] The P-3 lost more than 10 feet (3.0 m) of its wing in the collision.[citation needed] The P-3 completed its mission and returned to base.[citation needed]


In October 1962, P-3A aircraft flew several blockade patrols in the vicinity of Cuba. Having just recently joined the operational Fleet earlier that year, this was the first employment of the P-3 in a real world "near conflict" situation.


Beginning in 1964, forward deployed P-3 aircraft began flying a variety of missions under Operation Market Time from bases in the Philippines and Vietnam. The primary focus of these coastal patrols was to stem the supply of materials to the Viet Cong by sea, although several of these missions also became overland "feet dry" sorties. During one such mission, a small caliber artillery shell passed through a P-3 without rendering it mission incapable. During another overland mission, it is rumored, but not confirmed, that a P-3 shot down a North Vietnamese MiG with Zuni missiles. The only confirmed combat loss of a P-3 also occurred during Operation Market Time. In April 1968, a U.S. Navy P-3B of Patrol Squadron 26 (VP-26) was downed by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire in the Gulf of Thailand with the loss of the entire crew. Two months earlier, in February 1968, another one of VP-26's P-3B aircraft was operating in the same vicinity when it crashed with the loss of the entire crew. Originally attributed to be an aircraft mishap at low altitude, later conjecture is that this aircraft may have also fallen victim to AAA fire from the same source as the subsequent aircraft loss in April.[2]


On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and was poised to strike Saudi Arabia. Within forty-eight hours of the initial invasion of Kuwait, U.S. Navy P-3C aircraft were the first American forces to arrive in the area. One of these responding P-3C aircraft was a modified platform with a prototype system known as "Outlaw Hunter." Undergoing trials in the Pacific after being developed by the Navy’s Space & Naval Warfare Systems Command, "Outlaw Hunter" was testing a specialized over-the-horizon targeting (OTH-T) system package when it responded. Within hours of the start of the coalition air campaign, "Outlaw Hunter" detected a large number of Iraqi patrol boats and naval vessels attempting to make a run from Basra and Umm Qasar to Iranian waters. "Outlaw Hunter" vectored in strike elements which attacked the flotilla near Bubiyan Island destroying 11 vessels and damaging scores more. During Desert Shield, a P-3 using infrared imaging detected a ship with Iraqi markings beneath freshly painted bogus Egyptian markings trying to avoid detection. Several days before the 7 January 1991 commencement of Operation Desert Storm, a P-3C equipped with an APS-137 Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) conducted coastal surveillance along Iraq and Kuwait to provide pre-strike reconnaissance on enemy military installations. Fifty-five of the one hundred and eight Iraqi vessels destroyed during the conflict were targeted by P-3C aircraft.[3]


Although the P-3 is a Maritime Patrol Aircraft, armament and sensor upgrades in the Anti-surface Warfare Improvement Program (AIP) [4] have made it suitable for sustained combat air support over land[4]. Since the start of the current war in Afghanistan, U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft have been operating from Kandahar in that role.[5] Australian Air Force P-3 aircraft also operated there early in the war.[6] As of February 2010, the Australian P-3 aircraft have been operating in the area for a continuous 7 years. [7]


Spanish Air Force deployed P-3s in the area to contribute the international effort against piracy in Somalia. The mission proved the type's capability once again. Below, some actions in which Orion aircraft took part.

On 29 October 2008, a Spanish P-3 aircraft patrolling the coast of Somalia reacted to a distress call from an oil tanker and dropped three smoke bombs on the attacking pirate boats and foiled their attack.[8]

On 29 March 2009, the same P-3 pursued the assailants of the German navy tanker Spessart (A1442), resulting in the capture of the pirates.[9]

Civilian uses

Aero Union P-3A Orion taking off from Fox Field, Lancaster, California, to fight the North Fire.
NOAA WP-3D Hurricane Hunters
U.S. Department of Homeland Security P-3AEW&C to track drug couriers

Several P-3 aircraft have been N-registered and are operated by civilian agencies. The US Customs & Border Protection has a number of P-3A and P-3B aircraft that are used for aircraft intercept and 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 research platform, primarily for the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Airborne Science Program. It is based at Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.

Aero Union, Inc. operates eight ex-USN P-3A aircraft configured as air tankers, which are leased to the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other agencies for firefighting use. A unique capability of the P-3 is that on so-called "downhill runs," i.e. when the plane is commencing a low pass to drop fire retardant, it is possible to put the propellers into "Beta" range, which is reverse-thrust mode, in order to slow the plane for the drop of water-based retardant.[citation needed] Several of these aircraft were involved in the U.S. Forest Service airtanker scandal but have not been involved in any catastrophic aircraft mishaps.


Over the years, numerous variants of the P-3 have been created. A few notable examples are:

  • WP-3D: Two P-3C aircraft as modified on the production line for NOAA weather research, including hurricane hunting.
  • EP-3E Aries: 10 P-3A and 2 EP-3B aircraft converted into ELINT aircraft.
  • EP-3E Aries II: 12 P-3C aircraft converted into ELINT aircraft.
  • AP-3C: All 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.
  • CP-140 Aurora: Long-range maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare aircraft for the Canadian Armed Forces. Based on the P-3C Orion airframe, but mounts the more advanced electronics suite of the S-3 Viking. 18 built
  • CP-140A Arcturus: Three P-3s without ASW equipment for Canadian Aurora crew training and various coastal patrol missions.
  • P-7 proposed new-build and improved variant as a P-3 Orion replacement later canceled.
  • Orion 21 proposed new-build and improved variant as a P-3 Orion replacement; lost to Boeing P-8 Poseidon.


Military operators

P-3W, 11 Sqn RAAF, in 1990
P-3F of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
P-3C of the German Navy
Canadian CP-140 Aurora in June 2007
  • Brazilian Air Force - 12 P-3AM(Upgraded) in 2008. Integrated with the CASA FITS (Fully Integrated Tactical System), it will be utilized in Anti-submarine warfare.[10]
  • Chilean Navy - 4 P-3A; based at Base Aeronaval Torquemada, Con-Con
 New Zealand
 Republic of China (Taiwan)
 South Korea
 United States

Former military operators


Civilian operators

File:Lockheed AWACS, 1984.jpg
Lockheed debuts AWACS plane, a converted P-3 Orion, Los Angeles, 1984; later used by U.S. Department of Homeland Security
 United States

Specifications (P-3C Orion)

An armed US P-3C Orion
P-3 aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and the United States Navy

General characteristics

  • Crew: 11
  • Length: 116 ft 10 in (35.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 99 ft 8 in (30.4 m)
  • Height: 33 ft 8.5 in (10.3 m)
  • Wing area: 1300 ft² (120.8 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 0014-1.10 (Root) - NACA 0012-1.10 (Tip)
  • Empty weight: 77,200 lb (35,000 kg)
  • Useful load: 57,800 lb (26,400 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 135,000 lb (61,400 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 142,000 lb (64,400 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Allison T56-A-14 turboprop, 4,600 shp (3,700 kW) each
  • Propellers: Four-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller, 1 per engine
    • Propeller diameter: 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)



See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists




External links