16,800 flight hours later
First flown in 1959, some 757 P-3 Orions were made by Lockheed and Kawasaki by 1990. The Royal Australian Air Force got into the P-3 biz in 1968, one of the first non-U.S. users, when No 11 Squadron started flying the type. In all, 10 P-3C Update II Orions replaced No 10 Squadron’s aging SP2H Neptunes in 1978 while 11 Squadron’s P-3Bs were in turn phased out by 10 P-3C Update II.5 Orions in 1984–85.
In 1997, 18 of the legacy P-3C models were upgraded to the country’s unique AP-3C Orion variants, which have continued to operate. In all, the type put in an impressive 50 years in Cold War ASW keeping tabs on Soviet subs, long-range SAR (two wrecked yachtsmen in the Vendee Globe race were located 1,200 miles from shore in 1996 by a P-3), and support missions all over the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
The RAAF is replacing the type with 12 Boeing P-8 Poseidon (8 of which have been delivered) and as many as 8 MQ-4C Triton UAVs.
One survivor, AP-3C Orion #A9-659, is slated to be handed over to the Australian War Memorial in flying condition to preserve.
Built in 1985, it took its final flight on 28 June 2018, having accumulated 16,800 flight hours. 659 spent three solid decades undertaking operations with the RAAF, including during the Cold War and in East Timor. In 2003 it was one of the first aircraft to deploy to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper.
It also conducted the first Australian P-3C operational combat mission over Iraq during Operation Falconer on 16 March 2003. The craft also took part in the 2014 search for Malaysian Airlines MH370, the largest and longest-range airborne maritime search operation ever conducted.
P-3s are still flown by Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand (who is set to fly them through 2025) as well as 15 other countries. The U.S. Navy continues to fly increasingly limited numbers of P-3C Baseline III Orions until Poseidon is fully fielded.