Lockheed Orion heading to new museum home

The Air Force Museum of New Zealand will welcome the latest addition to its collection aircraft next month – Lockheed P-3K2 Orion NZ4203

Described in New Zealand as a national hero, NZ4203 has flown more than 27,000 hours during its illustrious 54-year career. It took part in hundreds of missions including search and rescue operations, anti-submarine patrols and spent thousands of hours protecting the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Air Force Museum of New Zealand Director Brett Marshall said it had been a long wait to get an Orion:

“To say we’re excited would be an understatement. NZ4203 will be the largest aircraft in our collection and one of the most significant. We are delighted to be able to ensure its preservation for the nation.

“We look forward to being able to tell the many stories associated with this extraordinary aircraft type which served us so well for so long.”

Built by Lockheed in Burbank, California in 1966, NZ4203 entered service with the RNZAF in April 1967. In 2021 it flew a farewell mission to land at RNZAF Woodbourne, Blenheim. Brett said the Orion fleet had given a huge amount of service over 54 years and NZ4203 deserved a happy retirement at the museum where it will be preserved as the only surviving RNZAF example of the type. It will be on show configured as it was for its last mission – minus any sensitive military equipment.

Orion NZ4203 on Antarctic ice on the outskirts of Scott's Base
Orion NZ4203 on Antarctic ice on the outskirts of Scott's Base RNZAF

“NZ4203 was the first RNZAF Orion to land in Antarctica back in 2006,” Brett added. “It has also taken part in numerous humanitarian and search and rescue missions and has been a lifesaver for many people who have found themselves needing help a long way from home.’’

NZ4203 served with 5 Squadron at RNZAF Whenuapai and was regularly upgraded to extend its lifespan, receiving new avionics and radio systems in the 1980s and new wings in the 1990s. The aircraft was decommissioned at Woodbourne and will arrive at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand by road in September, where it will be stored in the museum’s reserve collection hangar until an exhibition space large enough to house it can be built.

This impressive machine has been donated to the museum by the RNZAF. The Orions have been replaced by a fleet of four Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

The Orion flying in 2005 from Auckland
The Orion flying in 2005 from Auckland RNZAF