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Lockheed P-3 Orion

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P-3 Orion
A P-3C of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
RoleMaritime patrol aircraft
National originUnited States
Lockheed Martin
Kawasaki Heavy Industries
First flightNovember 1959[1]
IntroductionAugust 1962[1]
Primary usersUnited States Navy
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Number builtLockheed – 650,
Kawasaki – 107,
Total – 757[3]
Developed fromLockheed L-188 Electra
VariantsLockheed AP-3C Orion
Lockheed CP-140 Aurora
Lockheed EP-3
Lockheed WP-3D Orion
Developed intoLockheed P-7
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.[4] The aircraft is easily distinguished from the Electra by its distinctive tail stinger or "MAD Boom", used for the magnetic detection of submarines.
Over the years, the aircraft has seen numerous design developments, most notably in its electronics packages. Numerous navies and air forces around the world continue to use the P-3 Orion, primarily for maritime patrol, reconnaissance, anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.[1] A total of 757 P-3s have been built and, in 2012, it joined the handful of military aircraft including the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Lockheed U-2 that the United States military has been using for more than 50 years. The Boeing P-8 Poseidon will eventually replace the U.S. Navy's remaining P-3C aircraft.
In August 1957 the U.S. Navy called for proposals for replacement of the 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 anti-submarine warfare. Modifying an existing aircraft was expected[by whom?] to save on cost and to allow rapid introduction into the fleet. Lockheed suggested a military version of its L-188 Electra, then still in development and yet to fly. In April 1958 Lockheed won the competition and was awarded an initial research-and-development contract in May.[4]

The first Orion prototype was a converted Lockheed Electra.

Lockheed modified the prototype YP3V-1/YP-3A, Bureau Number (BuNo) 148276 from the third Electra airframe c/n 1003.[5] The first flight of the aircraft's aerodynamic prototype, originally designated YP3V-1, took place on 19 August 1958. While based on the same design philosophy as the Lockheed L-188 Electra, the aircraft differed structurally: it had 7 feet (2.1 m) less fuselage forward of the wings with an opening bomb bay, and a more pointed nose radome, a distinctive tail "stinger" for detection of submarines by magnetic anomaly detector, wing hardpoints, and other internal, external, and airframe-production technique enhancements.[4] The Orion has four Allison T56 turboprops which give it a top speed of 411 knots (761 km/h; 473 mph) comparable to the fastest propeller fighters, or even to slow high-bypass turbofan jets such as the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II or the Lockheed S-3 Viking. Similar patrol aircraft include the Soviet Ilyushin Il-38, the French Breguet Atlantique and the British jet-powered Hawker Siddeley Nimrod (based on the de Havilland Comet).

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.[4] Paint schemes have changed from early 1960s gloss seaplane gray and white to mid-1960s/1970s/1980s/early 1990s gloss white and gray, to mid-1990s flat finish low-visibility gray with fewer and smaller markings. In the early 2000s the paint scheme changed to its current overall 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 largely omitted.[6]

Further developments

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

In 1963, the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Naval Weapons (BuWeps) contracted Univac Defense Systems Division of Sperry Rand to engineer, build and test a digital computer (a device then in its 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. Univac delivered the CP-823/U to the Naval Air Development Center (NADC) at Johnsville, Pennsylvania in 1965; this directly led to the production computers later equipped on the P-3C Orion.[7]

Three civilian Electras were lost in fatal accidents between February 1959 and March 1960. Following the third crash the FAA restricted the maximum speed of Electras pending determination of the causes. After an extensive investigation, two of the crashes (those of September 1959 and March 1960) were identified as due to insufficiently strong engine-mounts, unable to damp a whirling motion that could affect the outboard engines. When the oscillation was transmitted to the wings, a severe vertical vibration escalated, tearing the wings from the aircraft.[8][9] The company implemented an expensive modification program, labelled the Lockheed Electra Achievement Program or LEAP, which strengthened the engine mounts and the wing structures supporting the mounts, and replaced some wing skins with thicker material. Lockheed, at its own expense, modified all the surviving Electras of the 145 built at that time at the factory, the modifications taking 20 days for each aircraft. The changes were incorporated into subsequent aircraft as they were built.[8]

Sales of Electra airliners were limited, as Lockheed's technical fix did not serve to completely erase the aircraft's "jinxed" reputation in an era in which turboprop-powered aircraft were being replaced by faster jets.[10] In military roles which value fuel efficiency more than speed, the Orion remained in service for over 50 years after its 1962 introduction. Although surpassed in production longevity by the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, 734 P-3s were produced through 1990.[2][11][12] 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 outer wings, center-wing lower section and horizontal stabilizers with newly-built parts.[13]

In the 1990s, the U.S. Navy attempted to procure a successor aircraft to the P-3, and selected the improved P-7 over a navalized variant of the twin turbofan-powered Boeing 757, but this program was subsequently cancelled. In a second program to select a replacement, the advanced Lockheed Martin Orion 21, another P-3 derived aircraft, lost out to the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, a Boeing 737 variant, which entered service in 2013.


USN P-3A of VP-49 in the original blue/white colors

Underside view of a USN P-3C showing the MAD (rear boom) and external sonobuoy launch tubes (grid of black spots towards the rear)

German Navy Rolls Royce Allison T56-A-14 engine with Hamilton Standard 54H60-77 propeller

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.[14]

The P-3 is equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) in the extended tail. This instrument is able to detect the magnetic anomaly of a submarine in the Earth's magnetic field. The limited range of this instrument requires the aircraft to be near the submarine at low altitude. Because of this, it is primarily used for pinpointing the location of a submarine immediately prior to a torpedo or depth bomb attack. Due to the sensitivity of the detector, electromagnetic noise can interfere with it, so the detector is placed in P-3's fiberglass tail stinger (MAD boom), far from other electronics and ferrous metals on the aircraft.

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