The Royal New Zealand Air Force fleet of six Lockheed P-3K Orion maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft nears the end of its long-term upgrade. The last aircraft is expected to return to full flight status in its new configuration later this year.
Aimed to fly the aircraft at least until 2025, the upgrade and life-extension of the planes lasted for more than seven years. The first aircraft even needed a whopping five years for its overhaul and modernisation in Texas, USA, before it was handed back to the RNZAF in 2011.
Apart from overhaul of the planes fuselage and other elements, the upgrade includes a new radar, new optics, better communications and a modern navigation system. Total costs are now projected at about 333 million dollar, 40 million less than originally projected due to fluctuations in exchange rates between the US and New Zealand dollar.
Five P-3B Orions were delivered to the RNZAF in 1966, with a sixth former Royal Australian Air Force P-3B following in 1985. All RNZAF Orions went through an avionics and radio systems upgrade in the 1980s, after which they were re-designated P-3K. The newest version is dubbed P-3K2.
The Orions have an action radius of 1,000 nautical miles (1,850km) with 4 hours on station. But longer flights on stations up to 15 hours are possible with two engines down to save fuel. During a typical mission the planes are manned by two pilots, two flight engineers, two navigators (including tactical coordinator), one air electronics officer, four air electronics operators and one air ordnance man. If necessary the planes can accommodate another 11 passengers besides the standard crew of 12.
All Orions fly with No 5 Squadron at RNZAF Base Auckland. They not only provide airborne surveillance, but are also deployed for search and rescue and disaster relief missions all the way to Antarctica if necessary.
© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger, including source information provided by the RNZAF
Featured image (above): A RNZAF P-3K Orion flying over Rangitoto Island on 30 March 2006 (Image © New Zealand Defence Force)