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Australian & New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials & History

RAAF A9 Lockheed AP-3C, P-3B/C, TAP-3B Orion

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A9-660 Edinburgh Nov.2005
 

Lockheed P-3 Orion Image Gallery

     
 

ORION

(THE MIGHTY HUNTER)

There can be little doubt that the submarine will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. The impact of the German U boat packs on shipping during WWII, the development of the nuclear submarine and it's missiles of the Cold War era, the subsequent stalking of these purveyors of Armageddon by the hunter/killer boats of both sides has firmly entrenched it's place in the military hardware line-up. The once mighty battleships were made redundant almost overnight by their vulnerability to air attack by the carriers, who in turn are now threatened by the submarine, requiring a large protective screen of planes and ships to ensure their safety. In recent times the new generation of silent diesels like our Collins Class boats have added another dimension to the plot. Today there are thought to be around 650 operational submarines in the World's oceans at any time.

Early attempts at Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) relied mostly on catching the boats on the surface to recharge their batteries, using the less than perfect radars of the day, or simply by visual sighting. The method of attack was by gunnery or rocketry if on the surface or depth charges if submerged. The evolution of the snorkel that allowed the diesels to run while at periscope depth, and later the nuclear boats that remained submerged for months at a time would require a whole new approach.

In the 50s and 60s technology advanced at a rapid pace, new radars capable of picking out a periscope, sniffers to detect diesel fumes from the snorkel, the Julie/Jezebel sonobouy that could hear submerged boats whether running or lying silent, the MAD detector that measured variations in the Earths magnetic field caused by the steel hull of a submarine, and most importantly the Mk44/46 torpedoes specifically designed to search for and attack a submerged submarine.

The Lockheed Aircraft Company had developed a patrol bomber for the US Navy, the P2V-1 in the late 1940s and using this basic design ended up with a dedicated ASW aircraft the Neptune P2V-4/5 in 1949/50. This aircraft incorporated all of the ASW technology that existed at that time and would continue to evolve over the years culminating in the highly successful P2V-7 in 1962.

By this time the aircraft had reached the limits of power plant design and available space to house all of the electronics required.

The company had in the meantime produced a short haul airliner for civilian use, the Lockheed Electra, a low winged medium sized airframe using four of the Allison 501 turboprops, (civilian versions of the T-56). In response to a US Navy requirement for a replacement for the Neptune Lockheed submitted a proposal based on the Electra airframe, shortened by 2.13m, strengthened, with an un-pressurized 3.91m long bomb bay grafted onto the underside of the fwd fuselage, increased internal fuel capacity and more powerful T56-A-10W engines. The internal ASW fit remained much the same as that of the Neptune. The proposal was accepted and the first Orion P-3As were delivered in Aug 1962, followed in 1965 by the P-3Bs, this version having more powerful T56-A-14 engines, revised electronics and a greater all up weight. Capable of a top speed in excess of 700kmh, a duration of 17 hours and with a comfortable pressurized crew compartment this was a great improvement on the Neptune.

In 1969 deliveries began of a completely revised version of the Orion, the P-3C. The entire ASW/MR suite was replaced and now computer controlled, the internally loaded/launched sonobouys were moved to cartridge fired tubes under the rear fuselage, the searchlight was replaced by an IR system for night surveillance and the outer wing stations could now carry and launch Harpoon missiles. This version soon became update I and then update II in 1977, each update incorporating improvements in the computers and electronics.

As part of the RAAF reorganization post WWII No 11 Sqn was reformed at Pearce WA in 1950 flying the GR version of the Mk30 Lincoln, in November 1951 they began re-equipping with P2V-4/5 Neptunes (now re-designated P-2Es) In 1954 they also moved to the Richmond base near Sydney. No 10 Sqn was also reformed at Townsville and in 1953 began operating the Mk31 long nose MR version of the Lincoln, due to corrosion problems these aircraft were withdrawn from service in 1961 and some nine months later the squadron began to re-equip with P2V-7 Neptunes, soon to be re-designated SP-2H.

November 1964 saw the decision to re-equip 11Sqn with P-3B Orions, ten of which were ordered for delivery 1968, they would also move again, this time to Edinburgh SA.

By 1972 10 Sqn's SP-2H Neptunes were also beginning to show their age and serious consideration to their replacement began. Considering the RAAF already operated Orions the New P-3C was the preferred option. An order for eight aircraft was placed in 1975 (later increased to ten); they would be of the update II version and would join 11 Sqn at Edinburgh. The first aircraft arrived in Australia 26May 1978. Following a survey on the desirability of upgrading the old P-3Bs to near P-3C standard in 1980 it was deemed more economical to purchase a further ten P-3Cs and in 1981 a deal was done with Lockheed, the old P-3Bs would be traded in on the new P-3Cs, the first aircraft arriving at Edinburgh on 7th December 1984. As these aircraft were of update II1/2 492 Maintenance Squadron requested that they be designated P-3W to prevent any confusion during maintenance.
 10 Sqn and 11 Sqn with the addition of 292 (training) Sqn formed the basis of 92 Wing. Although individual squadron markings were applied to aircraft they were in fact pooled for general use.

In the mid 1990s studies were undertaken in an attempt to prolong the operational life of the Orions. This culminated in the issue of Project Air 5276; this would require the provision of a comprehensive flight simulator, the acquisition of three refurbished ex USN P-3B Orions for aircrew training and transport duties (To be designated TAP-3Bs), and finally a complete refit of the entire fleet. Deliveries of the TAP-3s were delayed due to a number of causes, the deliveries were 1997, 1998, and 1999, by Feb 2004 they had all been retired. For some time they were empty hulks awaiting disposal, they were eventually scrapped in 2008.

The first P-3C was modified by L-3 Communications (formerly Raytheon) in the USA, subsequent aircraft were completed by that company's base at Avalon. Changes included a new mission computer, radar, acoustics tracking system, navigation system, communications equipment and some cockpit displays. A low visibility colour scheme was also adopted. The resulting aircraft had a much enhanced Electronic Support Measures (ESM) capability, it was uniquely Australian and was designated AP-3C. Again there were considerable delays with the final aircraft not delivered until Dec 2004.

Subsequent to this major refit there have been a number of updates. The Star SAFIRE III electro optical surveillance system in a retractable chin turret under the nose radar provides real time high resolution colour TV and infrared imaging for surveillance duties, in keeping with the Orion's increased overland intelligence gathering requirements. A missile self-protection suite consisting of infrared sensors, radar lock on sensors and decoy launchers controlled by an on board computer provide a degree of safety whilst operating in a hostile environment (Middle East Area of Operations). The weapons firing system is being upgraded to enable firing of the Harpoon II missile, with provision for a new long-range precision stand off weapon. The Mk 46 torpedo is to be replaced by the EUROTORP MU-90 lightweight torpedo and relevant hardware/software.

The Orions from 92 Wing are involved in regular deployments both in Australia and overseas whether on operational duties or training exercises. Australia has an international responsibility for search and rescue (SAR) covering a wide area around our coastline, to cover this an Orion is on permanent SAR standby. Over the years many rescues have been achieved. Probably one of the most notable was the location in Jan 1997 of the upturned hull of Tony Bullimore's yacht, 1500 miles south of Perth in the Great Southern Ocean under less than favourable weather conditions.

What of the future? On 30May2008 I attended a function at RAAF Base Edinburgh to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Orions at Edinburgh. It is planned to replace the Orion fleet by the year 2018 (Project Air 7000) with a mix of unmanned and manned aircraft, probably a derivative of the Global Hawk and the 737 based P-8A MMA Poseidon. Until then upgrades to the AP-3Cs will continue as new technology becomes available.

On 25th of November 2012 a parade and medal presentation ceremony was conducted at the El Minhad Airbase in the United Arab Emirates, the parade was to mark the disbandment of Operation Slipper Orion detachment Task Unit 633.2.4.
During the nearly ten years deployment the aircraft and crews from 92 Wing had flown 2,410 missions and 22,535 flying hours, consisting of maritime surveillance in the Arabian Gulf and north Arabian Sea, overland intelligence gathering in Iraq and Afghanistan and more recently anti piracy patrols near the Horn of Africa.
Upgrades to the aircrafts ESM capability has enabled real time vision to be supplied to ground forces during overland surveillance missions via the STAR Saphire 111 EO/IR and Tactical Common Data Link. This information on enemy positions and IED placements has been invaluable to the Coalition Forces.
One of the two aircraft on deployment returned in October 2012.
The final flight of the deployment, a 10-hour Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission (MISR) was carried out by A9-665 on the 21st November 2012,A9-665 returned to Edinburgh on 29th November 2012.

Rod Farquhar, Orion Page Editor.

 
     
 
Aircraft Serial USN.Serial Aircraft Type Const No. Delivered Aircraft History
A9-291 155291 P-3B 5401 04/68 To RNZAF 5/85 as NZ4206.
Modified to P-3K, in service with 5 Sqn RNZAF.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-291

A9-292 155292 P-3B 5402 01/68 To Portuguese Air Force 01/86 as 4801 as P-3P, Reserialed 14801.
Was in service 601 Sqn Portuguese Air Force.
Withdrawn from service May 2005. Stored OGMA Alverca.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-292

A9-293 155293 P-3B 5403 02/68 To Portuguese Air Force 01/86 as 4802 as P-3P, Reserialed 14802.
Was in service 601 Sqn Portuguese Air Force.
Withdrawn from service May 2005. Stored Montijo AB.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-293

A9-294 155294 P-3B 5404 02/68 To Portuguese Air Force 01/86 as 4803 as P-3P, Reserialed 14803.
Was in service 601 Sqn Portuguese Air Force.
Withdrawn from service 2005. Stored Beja AB.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-294

A9-295 155295 P-3B 5405 03/68 To Portuguese Air Force 01/86 as 4804 as P-3P, Reserialed 14804.
Was in service 601 Sqn Portuguese Air Force.
Withdrawn from service May 2005.
Stored DFTMA Ota.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-295

A9-296 155296 P-3B 5406 n/a Crashed during acceptance flight at Moffet Field NAS, USA.
Undercarriage collapsed.
Replaced by 154605, which became A9-605.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-296

A9-297 155297 P-3B 5407 04/68 To Portuguese Air Force 01/86 as 4805 as P-3P, Reserialed 14805.
Believed still in service 601 Sqn Portuguese Air Force.
At Beja in 2008 14805 flew its' and the Portuguese Air Forces' final P-3P sortie.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-297

A9-298 155298 P-3B 5408 05/68 Sent to Lockheed as N40035.
To Portuguese Air Force 01/86 as 4806 as P-3P, Reserialed 14806.
Was in service 601 Sqn Portuguese Air Force.
Withdrawn from service May 2005.
To PoAF Museum Sintra AB.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-298

A9-299 155299 P-3B 5409 05/68 To Lockheed 07/83 as N91LC AEW&C Orion Prototype.
To US Customs Service.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-299

A9-300 155300 P-3B 5410 05/68 Damaged by fire at Edinburgh, SA. 01/84, broken up for parts.
Fuselage (all that was left after the oxygen fire) was used as a 'training environmental class room' at DSTO Salisbury, S.A.
Scrapped 04/06/2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-300
A9-434 153434 TAP-3B 5231 14/02/98 AMARC 2P082.
Was to be A9-231 but not taken up.
Ex-USN aircraft purchased to be used for aircrew training/transport to extend the life of the P-3C fleet.
Was in service 11 Sqn.
Out of service around 2004.
Scrapped 04/06/2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-434

A9-438 153438 TAP-3B 5235 22/12/98 AMARC 2P0116.
Ex-USN aircraft purchased to be used for aircrew training/transport to extend the life of the P-3C fleet.
Avalon Air show 2001.
Was in service 11 Sqn.
Out of service around 2004.
Scrapped 04/06/2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-438

A9-439 153439 TAP-3B 5236 01/08/97 AMARC 2P090.
Was to be A9-236 but not taken up.
Ex-USN aircraft purchased to be used for aircrew training/transport to extend the life of the P-3C fleet.
Was in service 10 Sqn.
Out of service around 2004.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-439

A9-605 154605 P-3B 5286 09/69 Replaced the lost A9-296 which was not delivered.
To Lockheed 12/85.
Registered as N40035 AEW&C Orion for US Customs.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-605

A9-656 162656 AP-3C 5779 09/10/84 Originally P-3C, converted to AP-3C.
Avalon Air show 2003.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
In Service 11 Sqn 09/2006.
In service 10 Sqn May 2008.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.
Named HOLLIE and had nose art applied at a naming ceremony in MEAO in 2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-656

A9-657 162657 AP-3C 5780 02/85 Prototype for ALR-2001 ESM System. AP-3C Conversion.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.
In September2011 I photographed A9-657 in a highly modified state, the main differences being deletion of the external sonobouy tubes and a number of new antennae. For security reasons I have not published these photos before, however it's existence now seems to be common knowledge.
I think it would be reasonable to assume that it is a dedicated ELINT aircraft.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-657

A9-658 162658 AP-3C 5782 07/85 First Orion to be built at Palmdale.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Final flight 21/10/2016

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-658

A9-659 162659 AP-3C 5784 07/85 East Sale Air show 1996.
Avalon Air show 2001.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-659

A9-660 162660 AP-3C 5785 09/85 Static Display Avalon 2005.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.
Photographs posted on a face book page dedicated to RAAF Orion aircraft in early December 2013 show A9-660 also modified in a similar manner to A9-657, again it would be reasonable to assume that it is also a dedicated ELINT aircraft.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-660

A9-661 162661 AP-3C 5787 10/85 Used for T56, reduced smoke tests.
Has been reported as the only Orion not upgraded to AP-3C however the visible lumps and bumps would dispute this.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.
Named NICKY and had nose art applied at a naming ceremony in MEAO in 2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-661

A9-662 162662 AP-3C 5789 11/85 In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Noted carrying tail art commemorating 11Sqn 1939/2009 24/09/2009.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-662

A9-663 162663 P-3C? 5791 12/85 In service 11 Sqn.
Although externally having most of the items associated with the AP-3C upgrade it was in fact used as a trials aircraft for the development of new systems and was frequently absent from home base.
Noted at Edinburgh 04/10/2014 completely stripped ready for disposal.
Transported to scrap yard 17/10/2014.

Highlight for Album: Orion-A9-663

A9-664 162664 AP-3C 5793 04/86 Avalon Air show 1999.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.
Noted with 10/11 Sqn 75th Anniversary nose art at Edinburgh 04/10/2014.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-664

A9-665 162665 AP-3C 5795 05/86 Nowra Air show 1998. Avalon Air show 2001.
In service 11 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 11 Sqn 09/2011.
On 21/11/2012 after almost ten years, 2,410 missions and 22,535 flying hours A9-665 flew the final sortie in the MEAO, and on 25/11/2012 Task Unit 633.2.4 was disbanded at the Al Minhad Airbase, United Arab Emirates, A9-665 arrived back at Edinburgh four days later.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-665

A9-751 160751 AP-3C 5657 17/02/78 Avalon 2005. In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
In service 11 Sqn 09/2006.
In service 10 Sqn May 2008.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.
Noted with 10/11 Sqn 75th Anniversary nose art at Edinburgh 04/10/2014.
Allocated for delivery to the RAAF Museum Point Cook for December 2017.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-751

A9-752 160752 AP-3C 5658 03/78 In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-752

A9-753 160753 AP-3C 5660 05/78 Avalon Air show 1999.
In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-753

A9-754 160754 P-3C 5662 05/78 On the 26th April 1991 the aircraft took off from Cocos Island and commenced a right hand climbing turn to a height of 5,000 ft above mean sea level (AMSL). The aircraft was then placed into a shallow dive and positioned for a low level pass across the airfield. As the aircraft crossed the runway at 380 knots indicated airspeed and 300 ft AMSL, the pilot began a straight pull-out from the dive with all engines at full power. At this point, eyewitnesses saw a number of items separate from the aircraft. These items were later identified as wing leading edge components. A shallow climb was then achieved with the aircraft vibrating violently. The pilot attempted to complete a circuit preparatory to landing but height could not be maintained and the aircraft was ditched into the shallow water of the lagoon. Fin displayed at 492 Sqn HQ RAAF Edinburgh. Remainder of airframe dumped at sea.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-754

A9-755 160755 AP-3C 5664 08/78 In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.
Noted carrying FELIX nose art Edinburgh 08/07/2010.
Noted at Edinburgh completely stripped ready for disposal 04/10/2014.
Believed transported to scrap yard.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-755

A9-756 160756 AP-3C 5666 09/78 Out of service 1993-96 due to extensive corrosion repairs.
In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Noted with 10 Sqn tail art Edinburgh 27/10/2009.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.
Noted with 10/11 Sqn 75th Anniversary nose art at Edinburgh 04/10/2014.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-756

A9-757 160757 AP-3C 5668 10/78 In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
In service 10 Sqn,
Participant Fincastle May 2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-757

A9-758 160758 AP-3C 5672 11/78 Out of Service for most of 1996 due to undercarriage cracks.
In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.
Noted at Edinburgh completely stripped ready for disposal 04/10/2014.
Transported to scrap yard 27/10/2014.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-758

A9-759 160759 AP-3C 5674 12/78 AP-3C Conversion.
Avalon Air show 2001.
In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.
Noted at Edinburgh with nose art depicting Operational Service awards 04/10/2014.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-759

A9-760 160760 AP-3C 5676 01/79 Originally P-3C.
First AP-3C Conversion.
Avalon Air show 2003.
In service 10 Sqn pre AP-3C.
Believed in service 10 Sqn 09/2011.

Highlight for Album: Orion A9-760

Bu.152758 152758 TAP-3B 5202 ? AMARC N2P094.
Was to be purchased as TAP-3B, but rejected due to excessive corrosion.
Bu.152760 152760 TAP-3B 5204 ? AMARC N2P081.
Purchased for spares.
Scrapped 04/06/2008.

Highlight for Album: Orion Bu.152760

 
 
Highlight for Album: Orion lumps and bumps  Orions and Mirages
RAAF Pearce
10th November 1982
US Defense Visual Information Center photo DF-ST-83-07228
     

The Author of this page is Rod Farquhar.

Source: The Lockheed File by Ron Cuskelly, Joe Baugher's US Website, Portuguese Military Aviation Site, Royal New Zealand Air force Website, DSTO Website, The AMARC Experience,  P-3 Orion Research Group, Air Force News, Friends of RAAF P-3 Orion face book page.

Emails: Jason Hodgkiss, Ron Cuskelly, Luis Tavares & Antonio Mimoso, Dick Lohuis, Dean Norman, Mick Jansen, Mark Taylor, Peter Hancock, Graeme Edwards, Gordon Birkett, Brendan Cowan, Martin Edwards

Updated 3/11/2016

 

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