Fifty years of Royal Australian Air Force Orions

The three-ship AP-3C formation over Adelaide on November 30, 2018, marked both the 50th anniversary of the Orion in Australian service and the continued drawdown of the fleet towards retirement in at least 2021.
Nigel Pittaway

The Royal Australian Air Force celebrated 50 years of Lockheed P-3 Orion operations on November 30, 2018, with a threeship low-level lypast of Adelaide, South Australia.

Since the first aircraft, a P-3B, was delivered in January 1968, RAAF Edinburgh near Adelaide has been home to Australia’s Orion fleet.

In recent years, the fleet has consisted of upgraded AP-3Cs operated by Nos. 10 and 11 Squadrons, but the introduction of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon and the future acquisition of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton and Gulfstream 550ISREW has seen the fleet gradually drawn down.

Today, six Orions remain in service with 10 Squadron, and the fleet will further draw down to just two aircraft in the near future, before they, too, are retired in the 2021–2023 timeframe.

The commemorative lypast was planned as a four-ship formation, involving A9-661, A9-662, A9-665 and A9-752, but a technical defect kept A9-665 from taking of and the light continued as three ships.

Wing Commander Colin Smith, Commanding Oicer of 10 Squadron, said: “It’s not quite inished yet, there’s a few more years of service in the P-3s, but the fleet has downsized and we’re handing of roles to the P-8A as they achieve their milestones/ It is sad to see those roles disappear from the P-3 …I think it’s the last of the real pilot’s aircraft in the Air Force.”

A more detailed look at Australia’s AP-3C operations will appear in a future issue of AIR International.

In other Royal Australian Air Force maritime ISR news, the Australian government announced on November 30, 2018, that an 11 Squadron P-8A will deploy to Japan to conduct maritime surveillance in support of the international efort to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea. The deployment marks the first time the P-8A has participated in this operation.