Lockheed P-3 Orion

A P-3C Orion of Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22) flies over Japan, 1 December 1991.

A P-3C Orion of Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22) flies over Japan, 1 December 1991.

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. 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 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. A total of 734 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 have seen over 50 years of continuous use by the United States military. The U.S. Navy’s remaining P-3C aircraft will eventually be replaced by the P-8A Poseidon.

Role Maritime patrol aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed
Lockheed Martin
Kawasaki Heavy Industries
First flight November 1959
Introduction August 1962
Status Active
Primary users United States Navy
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Republic of Korea Navy
Produced 1961–1990
Number built Lockheed – 650,
Kawasaki – 107,
Total – 757
Unit cost
US$36 million (FY1987)
Developed from Lockheed L-188 Electra
Variants Lockheed AP-3C Orion
Lockheed CP-140 Aurora
Lockheed EP-3
Lockheed WP-3D Orion
Developed into Lockheed P-7


Main article: P-3 Orion variants

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: Royal Australian Air Force P-3C/W aircraft which have been extensively upgraded by L-3 Communications with new mission systems, including 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 Lockheed 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.
  • P-3K2: Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 aircraft which have been fully upgraded with totally new mission systems by L-3 Mission Integration Division, Greenville, Texas. The flight deck now has ‘glass’ instrumentation and navigation computer automation. The Tactical Rail (Tacrail) has been completely refitted with modern sensors, communication and data management systems.


Map with P-3 operators in red, former operators in light red.

Map with P-3 operators in red, former operators in light red.

Military operators


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. The Lockheed P-8 Poseidon is gradually replacing them.

  • Chilean Navy – four P-3A; based at Base Aeronaval Torquemada, Concón. Three used as patrol aircraft, one used for personnel transport. Chile plans to extend their service lives past 2030 by changing the wings, modernizing the engines, and integrating the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.
  • Hellenic Air Force – six P-3B operated jointly with the Hellenic Navy, not in operable condition as of 2015, 4 of the planes are undergoing maintenance as of 2016 which should return them to airworthy condition
 New Zealand
  • Royal New Zealand Air Force – six P-3K2 (5 Sqn); based in RNZAF Base Auckland. Operated by 5 SQN. Five were originally delivered in 1966 as P-3Bs. Another was purchased from the RAAF in 1985, following which all were upgraded to their current standard. Currently undergoing various mission system upgrades by L-3 Communications Canada and now designated as P-3K2. Due to be replaced in 2025 with equivalent level of capability, either manned or unmanned.
  • 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, 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. Two aircraft were destroyed in an attack by armed militants at the Mehran Naval Airbase.

 South Korea

  • Spanish Air Force – Two P-3A HWs, four P-3B ( ex-Norway) 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.
 Taiwan (Republic of China)
  • 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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”, owing to their short period of service with Taiwan’s “Black Bat” Squadron, were issued to U.S. 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.
  • 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. In May 2014 Lockheed Martin were awarded a contract to upgrade and overhaul all 12 P-3Cs for completion by August 2015.
  • Royal Thai Navy – two P-3Ts, one VP-3T; based at RTNAB U-Tapao (102 Sqn)
 United States



Civilian operators


Notable events, accidents, and incidents

  • 30 January 1963: United States Navy P-3A BuNo 149762 was lost at sea in the Atlantic Ocean, 14 crew killed.
  • 4 July 1966: Lockheed P-3A Orion, BuNo 152172, construction number 185-5142, assigned to VP-19, Radio call sign Papa Echo Zero Five (PE-05), crashed 7 miles (11 km) northeast Battle Creek, MI. The P-3A Orion was on the return leg of a cross country training flight from NAS New York-Floyd Bennett Field, New York to NAS Moffett Field, California via NAS Glenview, Illinois., all four crew lost.
  • 6 March 1969: USN P-3A BuNo 152765 tail coded RP-07 of VP-31 crashed at NAS Lemoore, California, at the end of a practice ground control approach (GCA) landing, all six crew died.
  • 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: USN P-3A BuNo 152155 disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on a routine training mission after departing NAS Moffett Field, California with the loss of eight crew members.
  • 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-3A of VP-44hit a mountain in Morocco, resulting in the death of all 14 crew on board the aircraft.
  • 12 April 1973: A United States Navy P-3C BuNo 157332 operating from NAS Moffett Field, 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, 0.5 miles (0.80 km) short of the runway, resulting in destruction of both aircraft and the death of all but one crewmember.
  • 11 December 1977: USN P-3B BuNo 153428 from VP-11 operating from Lajes Field, Azores crashed on mountainous El Hierro (southwesternmost of the Canary Islands) in poor visibility. There were no survivors from the crew of 13.
  • 26 April 1978: USN P-3B BuNo 152724 from VP-23 crashed on landing approach to Lajes Field, Azores. Seven of the crew were killed and the plane sank into deep water preventing recovery to assess the cause of the crash.
  • 22 September 1978: USN P-3B BuNo 152757 from VP-8 disintegrated over Poland, Maine on 22 September 1978. An over-pressurized fuel tank caused the port wing to separate at the outboard engine.[65] The detached wing sheared off part of the tail; and aerodynamic forces caused the remaining engines and starboard wing to detach from the fuselage. Debris rained down near the south end of Tripp Pond shortly after 12:00. There were no survivors from the plane’s 8-man crew.
  • 26 October 1978: USN P-3C BuNo 159892 call sign coded AF 586 from VP-9 operating from NAS Adak ditched at sea after an engine fire caused by a propeller malfunction. Ten of the 15-man crew were rescued by a Soviet trawler.
  • 27 June 1979: P-3B BuNo 154596 from VP-22 operating from NAS Cubi Point Philippines, had a propeller overspeed shortly after departure. The number 4 propeller then departed the aircraft striking the number three with a subsequent fire on that engine. While attempting an overweight landing with 2 engines out, the aircraft stalled, rolled inverted and crashed in Subic Bay just past Grande Island. Four crew and one passenger were killed in the crash.
  • 17 April 1980: USN P-3C BuNo 158213 from VP-50 while flying for a parachuting exhibition in Fiji, struck overhead tram wires and crashed, killing all six crew on board.
  • 17 May 1983: USN P-3B BuNo 152733 tail coded YB-07 from VP-1 inadvertently landed gear up during a routine dedicated field work (DFW) pilot training flight at NAS Barbers Point. No crew were injured but the aircraft was a total loss.
  • 16 June 1983: USN P-3B BuNo 152720 tail coded YB-06 from VP-1 at NAS Barbers Point crashed into a mountain top in fog and low clouds on the Napali Coast between the Hanapu and Kalalau valleys in Kauai, Hawai’i shortly after 0400 hours, killing all 14 on board.
  • 13 September 1987: A Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3B, tail number “602”, is hit from below by a Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 of the 941st IAP V-PVO. The Su-27 flew below the P-3’s starboard side, then accelerated and pulled up, clipping the #4 engine’s propellers. The propeller shrapnel hit the Orion’s fuselage and caused a decompression. There were no injuries and both aircraft returned safely to base.
  • 25 September 1990: The first production model P-3C Update III, BuNo 161762, assigned to VP-31 at NAS Moffett Field, impacted the runway at an excessive rate of descent while conducting at dedicated field work sortie at Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Crows Landing. Both main landing gear failed and the aircraft slid down the runway. Some crewmembers sustained minor injuries, but there were no fatalities. The aircraft was a total loss.
  • 21 March 1991: While on a training mission west of San Diego, California, two U.S. Navy P-3C Orions, BuNos 158930 and 159325 assigned to VP-50 based at NAS Moffett Field collided in midair, killing all 27 crew on board both aircraft.
  • 26 April 1991: AP-3C, tail number A9-754 of the Royal Australian Air Force, lost a wing leading edge and crashed into shallow water in the Cocos Island; one crewman was killed. Aircraft was cut up and used as an artificial reef. The head investigator of this incident was RAAF FLTLT Richard Hall.
  • 25 March 1995: USN P-3C BuNo 158217 assigned to VP-47 was returning from a training mission in the North Arabian Sea when it suffered catastrophic engine failure of the number 4 engine. The aircraft ditched at sea 2 miles (3.2 km) from RAFO Masirah, Oman. All 11 crew members were rescued by the Royal Omani Air Force.
  • 1 April 2001: An aerial collision known as the Hainan Island incident between a USN EP-3E ARIES II, BuNo 156511, a signals reconnaissance version of the P-3C, and a People’s Liberation Army Navy J-8IIM fighter resulted in the J-8IIM crashing and its pilot was killed. The EP-3 came close to becoming uncontrollable, at one point sustaining a near inverted roll, but was able to make an emergency landing on Hainan.
  • 16 October 1991: P-3A N924AU of Aero Union crashed into a mountain in Montana, United States killing both crew.
  • 22 May 2011: Twenty Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militants 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. The aircraft had been readily used by the Pakistani military in overland counter-insurgency surveillance operations.
  • 15 February 2014: Three US Navy P-3C Orions were crushed “beyond repair” when their hangar, at NAF Atsugi, Japan was destroyed due to a massive snow storm.

Specifications (P-3C Orion)

P-3 aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and the United States Navy (with RAAF Dassault Mirage III)

P-3 aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and the United States Navy (with RAAF Dassault Mirage III)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 11
  • Length: 116 ft 10 in (35.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 99 ft 8 in (30.4 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 8 in (11.8 m)
  • Wing area: 1300 ft² (120.8 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 0014-1.10 (Root) – NACA 0012-1.10 (Tip)
  • Empty weight: 77,200 lb (35,000 kg)
  • Useful load: 57,800 lb (26,400 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 135,000 lb (61,400 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 142,000 lb (64,400 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Allison T56-A-14 turboprop, 4,600 shp (3,700 kW) each
  • Propellers: Four-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller, 1 per engine
    • Propeller diameter: 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)




  • RADAR: Raytheon AN/APS-115 Maritime Surveillance Radar, AN/APS-137D(V)5 Inverse Synthetic Aperture Search Radar
  • IFF: APX-72, APX-76, APX-118/123 Interrogation Friend or Foe (IFF)
  • EO/IR: ASX-4 Advanced Imaging Multispectral Sensor (AIMS), ASX-6 Multi-Mode Imaging System (MMIS)
  • ESM: ALR-66 Radar Warning Receiver, ALR-95(V)2 Specific Emitter Identification/Threat Warning
  • Hazeltine Corporation AN/ARR-78(V) sonobuoy receiving system
  • Fighting Electronics Inc AN/ARR-72 sonobuoy receiver
  • IBM Proteus UYS-1 acoustic processor
  • AQA-7 directional acoustic frequency analysis and recording sonobuoy indicators
  • AQH-4 (V) sonar tape recorder
  • ASQ-81 magnetic anomaly detector (MAD)
  • ASA-65 magnetic compensator
  • Lockheed Martin AN/ALQ-78(V) electronic surveillance receiver

See also