Lockheed P-3 Orion

Lockheed P-3 Orion
P-3 Orion
A P-3C Orion of Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22) flies over Japan, 1 December 1991.
Role Maritime patrol aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed
Lockheed Martin
First flight November 1959[1]
Introduction August 1962[1]
Status Active
Primary users United States Navy
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Brazilian Air Force
Number built Lockheed – 650,
Kawasaki – 107,
Total – 757[2]
Unit cost US$36 million (FY1987)[1]
Developed from Lockheed L-188 Electra[3]
Variants Lockheed AP-3C Orion
Lockheed CP-140 Aurora
Lockheed EP-3
Lockheed WP-3D Orion

The Lockheed P-3 Orion is a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft developed for the United States Navy and introduced in the 1960s. Lockheed based it on the L-188 Electra commercial airliner.[3] The aircraft is easily recognizable by its distinctive tail stinger or "MAD Boom", used for the magnetic detection of submarines. Over the years, the aircraft has seen numerous design advancements, most notably to its electronics packages. The P-3 Orion is still in use by numerous navies and air forces around the world, primarily for maritime patrol, reconnaissance, anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.[1] A total of 734 P-3s have been built, and by 2012, it will join the handful of military aircraft such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress which have served 50 years of continuous use with its original primary customer, in this case, the United States Navy. The U.S. Navy's remaining P-3C aircraft will eventually be replaced by the Boeing P-8A Poseidon.



In August 1957, the U.S. Navy called for replacement proposals for the aging twin piston engined Lockheed P2V Neptune (later redesignated P-2) and Martin P5M Marlin (later redesignated P-5) with a more advanced aircraft to conduct maritime patrol and antisubmarine warfare. Modifying an existing aircraft was expected to save on cost and allow rapid introduction into the fleet. Lockheed suggested a military version of their L-188 Electra, which was still in development and had yet to fly. In April 1958 Lockheed won the competition and was awarded an initial research and development contract in May.[3]

The first Orion prototype was a converted Lockheed Electra.

The prototype YP3V-1/YP-3A, Bureau Number (BuNo) 148276 was in fact modified from the third Electra airframe c/n 1003.[4] The first flight of the aircraft's aerodynamic prototype, originally designated YP3V-1, was on 19 August 1958. While based on the same design philosophy as the Lockheed L-188 Electra, the aircraft was structurally different. The aircraft had 7 metres (23 ft) less fuselage forward of the wings with an opening bomb bay, as well as a more pointed nose radome, distinctive tail "stinger", wing hardpoints, and other internal, external, and airframe production technique enhancements.[3] The Orion has four Allison T56 turboprops which give it a top speed of 411 knots (761 km/h) comparable to the fastest propeller fighters, or even slow low-bypass turbofan jets such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the S-3 Viking. Similar aircraft include the Soviet Ilyushin Il-38 and the French Breguet Atlantique while the UK the British adapted the jet-powered de Havilland Comet into the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod.

P-3 Orions from Japan, Canada, Australia, Republic of Korea and the United States at MCAS Kaneohe Bay during RIMPAC 2010.

The first production version, designated P3V-1, was launched on 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, with the aircraft being renamed the P-3 Orion.[3] Paint schemes have changed from early 1960s gloss blue and white, to mid-1960s gloss white and gray, to mid-1990s flat finish low visibility gray with fewer and smaller markings. In the early 2000s, the scheme changed 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.[5]

In 1963, the U.S. Navy Bureau of Weapons (BuWeps) contracted Univac Defense Systems Division of Sperry-Rand to engineer, build and test a digital computer (then in its early infancy) to interface with the many sensors and newly developing display units of the P-3 Orion. Project A-NEW was the engineering system which, after several early trials, produced the engineering prototype, the CP-823/U, Univac 1830, Serial A-1, A-NEW MOD3 Computing System. The CP-823/U Engineering Prototype Computer was delivered to the Naval Air Development Center (NADC) at Johnsville, Pa in 1965. It was the testbed computer unit that led to the production computer for the P-3C Orion.[6]

Three civilian Electras were lost in fatal accidents in 14 months between February 1959 and March 1960. Following the third crash the FAA restricted the maximum speed at which Electras could be flown until the cause could be determined. After an extensive investigation, two of the crashes (in September 1959 and March 1960) were found to be caused by an engine mount problem. They were not strong enough to dampen a whirling mode that affected the outboard engine nacelles. When the oscillation was transmitted to the wings they were attached to, a severe up-and-down vibration escalated until the wings would tear themselves off the aircraft.[7][8] The company implemented an expensive modification program labelled the Lockheed Electra Achievement Program or LEAP, in which the engine mounts and the wing structures supporting the mounts were strengthened, and some of the wing skins replaced with thicker material. Each of the survivors of the 145 Electras built to that time was modified at Lockheed's expense at the factory, the modifications taking 20 days for each aircraft; and the changes were incorporated in subsequent aircraft as they were built.[7]

Sales of airliners were limited as the technical fix did not completely erase the "jinxed" reputation while turboprops were soon replaced by faster jets.[9] In military missions where fuel efficiency was more important than speed, the Orion would remain in service nearly 50 years after its 1962 introduction. Although not quite matching the longevity of the still-in-production C-130 Hercules, which was the original application of the Allison T56 turboprop, 734 P-3s were produced until 1990.[10][11] Lockheed Martin opened a new P-3 wing production line in 2008 as part of its Service Life Extension Program (ASLEP) for delivery in 2010. A complete ASLEP replaces the aircraft outer wings, center wing lower section and horizontal stabilizers with new-build parts.[12]

The Lockheed Electra had been created as cost-effective alternative to the Boeing 707 (first prototype flight in 1954) when turboprops are very efficient at flight speeds below 450 mph compared to early turbojets. The improved P-7 was selected over a variant of the Boeing 757, but was cancelled. The further advanced Orion 21 lost out to the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. Due to enter service in 2013, the P-8 is an evolution of designs dating back to the original 707 as the Boeing 737 airliner has grown to become a slightly larger airframe than the 707 prototype, powered by very efficient low-bypass turbofans with more power.


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, 127 millimetres (5.0 in) 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.[13]

The P-3 is equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) in the tail. This instrument is able to detect the magnetic anomaly generated by a submarine in the Earth's magnetic field. The limited range of this instrument requires the aircraft to be overhead or very close to the submarine at low altitude. Because of this, it is primarily is used for pinpointing the location of a submarine immediately prior to a torpedo or depth bomb attack. Due to the incredibly sensitive nature of the detector, electro-magnetic noise can interfere with its operation. For this reason, the detector is placed in P-3's distinct fiberglass tail stinger or "MAD boom", far away from rest of the electronics and other ferrous metals on the aircraft.[14]

Crew complement

The crew complement varies depending on the role being flown, the variant being operated, and the country that is operating the type. In US Navy service, the original normal crew complement was 12 until it was reduced to its current complement of 11 in the early 2000s when the in-flight ordnancman (ORD) position was eliminated as a cost-savings measure and the ORD duties assumed by the in-flight technician (IFT).[1] Data for US Navy P-3C only.


  • 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)

NOTE: NAVCOM on P-3C only; USN P-3A & P-3B series had an NFO Navigator (NAV) and an enlisted radio operator (RO)

Enlisted Aircrew:

  • two enlisted aircrew flight engineers (FE1 and FE2)
  • three enlisted sensor operators
    • Radar/MAD/AWO (SS-3)
    • two Acoustic (SS-1 and SS-2)
  • one enlisted in-flight technician (IFT)
  • one enlisted 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

Once on station, one engine is often shut down (usually the No. 1 engine – the port outer engine) to conserve fuel and extend the time aloft and/or range when at low level. It is the primary candidate for loiter shutdown because uniquely it has no generator, and provides no electrical power. Eliminating the exhaust from engine 1 also improves visibility from the aft observer station on the port side of the aircraft.

On occasion, both outboard engines can be shut down, weight, weather, and fuel permitting. Long deep-water, coastal or border patrol missions can last over 10 hours and may include extra crew. The record time aloft for a P-3 is 21.5 hours, undertaken by the Royal New Zealand Air Force's No. 5 Squadron in 1972.

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 Soviet Navy ballistic missile and fast attack submarines and to eliminate same in the event of full scale war. At its height, the US Navy's P-3 community consisted of twenty-four active duty "Fleet" patrol squadrons home based at air stations in the states of Washington, Florida, and Hawaii as well as bases which formerly had P-3 operations in Maryland, Maine, and California. There were also thirteen Naval Reserve patrol squadrons identical to their active duty "Fleet" counterparts based in Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts (later relocated to Maine), Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, California and Washington; and two Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) in California (now deactivated providing P-3 training for the Pacific Fleet) and Florida providing P-3 training (formerly only for the Atlantic Fleet). This was augmented by two active duty test and evaluation squadrons and three active duty "special projects" units, the latter being slightly smaller than a typical squadron.

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 1 April 2001, a midair collision between a United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals surveillance aircraft and a People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) J-8II jet fighter-interceptor resulted in an international dispute between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) called the Hainan Island incident.[15]

More than 40 combatant and noncombatant P-3 variants have demonstrated 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 Grumman E-2 Hawkeye or an AN/APG-66 radar adapted from the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, and for NASA for research and development.

The United States Navy remains the largest P-3 operator, currently distributed between a single fleet replacement (i.e., "training) patrol squadron, 12 active duty patrol squadrons, two Navy Reserve patrol squadrons, 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.


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.[citation needed] 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 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 April incident.[16]


On 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and was poised to strike Saudi Arabia. Within 48 hours of the initial invasion, U.S. Navy P-3C aircraft were the first American forces to arrive in the area. One 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 move from Basra and Umm Qasr 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. A total of 55 of the 108 Iraqi vessels destroyed during the conflict were targeted by P-3C aircraft.[17]

The P-3 Orion's mission expanded in the late 1990s and early 2000s to include battlespace surveillance both at sea and over land. The long range and long loiter time of the P-3 Orion have proved to be an invaluable asset during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It can instantaneously provide information about the battlespace it can see to ground troops, particularly the U.S. Marines.[1]


Although the P-3 is a Maritime Patrol Aircraft, armament and sensor upgrades in the Anti-surface Warfare Improvement Program (AIP)[18] have made it suitable for sustained combat air support over land.[18] Since the start of the current war in Afghanistan, U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft have been operating from Kandahar in that role.[19] Royal Australian Air Force P-3 aircraft also operated there early in the war.[20] As of February 2010, the Australian P-3 aircraft have been operating in the area for a continuous seven years.[21]

Recently the United States Geological Survey used the Orion to survey parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan for lithium, copper, and other mineral deposits.[22]

Pakistan Navy P-3C Orion at Quetta in October 2010


On 22 May 2011, two out of the four Pakistani P-3C aircraft were destroyed by a terrorist attack while parked on the tarmac during an attack at the Mehran Pakistani Naval Air Base in Karachi. [23] In June 2011, The United States agreed to replace the destroyed aircraft with two new ones, with delivery to follow later.[24]


A US Navy P-3C Orion monitoring the hijacking of MV Maersk Alabama, 2009

The Spanish Air Force deployed P-3s to assist the international effort against piracy in Somalia. On 29 October 2008, a Spanish P-3 aircraft patrolling the coast of Somalia reacted to a distress call from an oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden. In order to deter the pirates, the aircraft flew over the pirates three times as they attempted to board the tanker, dropping a smoke bomb on each pass. After the third pass, the attacking pirate boats broke off their attack.[25] Later, 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.[26] In April 2011, the Portuguese Air Force also contributed to Operation Ocean Shield by sending a P-3C[27] which had early success when on its fifth mission detected a pirate whaler with two attack skiffs.[28]


Several US Navy P-3C Orions, and two Canadian CP-140 Auroras, a variant of the Orion, have participated in maritime surveillance missions over Libyan waters in the framework of enforcement of the 2011 no-fly zone over Libya.[citation needed]

A US Navy P-3C Orion supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn engaged the Libyan coast guard vessel Vittoria on 28 March 2011 after the vessel and two smaller craft fired on merchant ships in the port of Misrata, Libya. The Orion fired an AGM-65 Maverick on the Vittoria, which was subsequently beached.[29]

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 and 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 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (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. Several of these aircraft were involved in the U.S. Forest Service airtanker scandal but have not been involved in any catastrophic aircraft mishaps.

Latin America

Admiral Stavridis stated in a speech in January 2011 that P-3s have been used to hunt down "third generation" narco subs.[30] This is significant due to as recently as July 2009 fully submersible submarines have begun to be used in smuggling operations.[31]


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 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 the Boeing P-8 Poseidon.


Military operators of the P-3

This list of P-3 Orion operators is a list of Lockheed P-3s that were used by Patrol Squadrons of the United States Navy and foreign governments. The P-3 has seen continuous use for almost five decades since its introduction in 1962 as a Antisubmarine warfare and Antisurface warfare patrol aircraft.[1]

Military operators

  • Argentine Naval Aviation – 6 P-3B; based at Base Aeronaval Alte. Zar, Trelew
P-3W, 11 Sqn RAAF, in 1990

In 2002, the RAAF received significantly upgraded AP-3C. Also known as Australian Orions they are fitted with a variety of sensors. They include digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measures, electro-optics detectors (infra-red and visual), magnetic anomaly detectors, identification friend or foe systems, and acoustic detectors.[32]

  • Brazilian Air Force – 12 P-3AM(Upgraded) in 2008. Integrated with the CASA FITS (Fully Integrated Tactical System)utilized in Anti-submarine warfare.[33]
Canadian CP-140 Aurora in June 2007
P-3C of the German Navy
P-3F of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force

After Lockheed bribery scandals, the Japan Defense Agency decided to officially adopt the Lockheed P-3C replaced the Kawasaki P-2J in 1977.[34] The Kawasaki assembled five airframes produced by Lockheed, and the Kawasaki under license produced more than 100 P-3 variants in Japan.[35]

 New Zealand
  • Pakistan Naval Air Arm – ~Four P-3C; based in Naval aviation base Faisal, Karachi. Upgraded P-3C MPA and P-3B AEW models (equipped with Hawkeye 2000 AEW system) ordered in 2006,[36] first upgraded P-3C delivered in early 2007. In June 2010, two more upgraded P-3Cs joined the Pakistan Navy with anti-ship and submarine warfare capabilities.[37]. Only two of these aircraft remain after an attack by armed Islamic militants destroyed two of the four Pakistan had acquired.
  • Portuguese Air Force – Five P-3Cs (Squadron 601); based in Beja Air Base (BA11). They replace six P-3Bs based P-3Ps of which one is still in service.
 Republic of China (Taiwan)
  • Republic of China Air Force(1966–1967) – Least known of all P-3 family. Three P-3As (149669, 149673, 149678) were obtained by CIA from the US Navy under Project STSPIN in May 1963, as the replacement aircraft for CIA's own covert operation fleet of RB-69A/P2V-7U versions. Converted by Aerosystems Division of LTV at Greenville, Texas, the three P-3As were simply known as "black" P-3As under "Project Axial". Officially transferred from US Navy to CIA on June/July 1964, LTV Aerosystems converted the three aircraft to be both ELINT and COMINT platform. First of three "black" P-3As arrived in Taiwan and officially transferred to ROCAF's top secret "Black Bat" Squadron on 22 June 1966. Armed with four Sidewinder short range AAM missiles for self defense, the three "black" P-3A flew peripheral missions along the China coast to collect SIGINT and air samples. When the project was terminated in January 1967, all three "black" P-3As were flown to NAS Alameda, CA, for long term storage. In September 1967, Lockheed at Burbank, converted two of the three aircraft (149669 and 149678) into the only two EP-3B examples in existence in the world, while the third aircraft (149673) was converted by Lockheed in 1969–1970 to serve as a development aircraft for various electronic programs. The two EP-3Bs known as "Bat Rack", owning to their short period of service with Taiwan's "Black Bat" Squadron, were issued to US Navy's VQ-1 Squadron in 1969 and deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam. Later, the two EP-3Bs were converted to EP-3E ARIES, along with seven EP-3As. The two EP-3Es retired in the 1980s, when replaced by 12 EP-3E ARIES II versions.[38]
  • Republic of China Navy – 12 P-3Cs (Ordered, with deliveries starting in 2012), with three "spare" airframes that might be converting to EP-3E standard; based in south part of the island and offshore island.[39]

 South Korea

  • Spanish Air Force – Two P-3A HWs, four P-3B being upgraded to P-3M, based at Morón Air Base. The Spanish AF bought five P-3B from Norway in 1989 and it was planned to upgrade all five to M standard, however, due to budgetary constraints only four are to be upgraded, the remaining aircraft being used as spares source.
  • Royal Thai Navy – two P-3Ts, one VP-3T; based at RTNAB U-Tapao (102 Sqn)
 United States
  • United States Navy – 154 P-3Cs and EP-3Es; additional P-3A, P-3B, P-3C and EP-3J aircraft in long-term storage at AMARC[40] The US Navy plans to reduce this number to 130 by 2010.[1] The government of Singapore has expressed an interest in buying surplus P-3C aircraft from the US Navy.[41]
  • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – two WP-3Ds flown by NOAA Commissioned Corps officers, based at MacDill AFB, Florida
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection – four P-3C and four P-3AEW&C. Used to track and intercept illegal drug operations.

Former military operators


Civilian operators

Lockheed debuts AWACS aircraft, a converted P-3 Orion, Los Angeles, 1984; later used by U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Notable events, accidents, and incidents

  • 28 January 1971: Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, USN flew a P-3C Orion to a world speed record for heavyweight turboprops. Over 15–25 kilometers, he reached 501 miles per hour to break the Soviet Il-18's May 1968 record of 452 miles per hour.
  • 26 May 1972: BuNo 152155, a US Navy P-3A, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on a routine training mission after departing NAS Moffett Field, California with the loss of eight crew members.[46]
  • 3 June 1972: While attempting to fly through the Straits of Gibraltar, en route from Naval Station Rota, Spain to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily a U.S. Navy P-3 assigned to Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44) hit a mountain in Morocco, resulting in the death of all 14 people on board the aircraft.[47]
  • 12 April 1973: A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C (157332) operating from NAS Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California collided with a Convair CV-990 (N711NA) operated by NASA during approach to runway 32R. The aircraft crashed on the Sunnyvale Municipal Golf Course, half a mile short of the runway, resulting in destruction of both aircraft and the death of all but one.[48]
  • 21 March 1991: While on a training mission west of San Diego, California, two U.S. Navy Orions assigned to Patrol Squadron 50 (VP-50) at NAS Moffett Field collided in midair, killing all 27 people on board both aircraft.[49]
  • 22 May 2011: Twenty Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan terrorists claiming to avenge Osama Bin Laden's death destroyed two Pakistan Navy P-3C Orions during an armed attack at PNS Mehran, a heavily guarded base of the Pakistan Navy located in Karachi.[50]

Specifications (P-3C Orion)

P-3 aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and the United States Navy

General characteristics




See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


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