Skyside Classic: Lockheed P-3 Orion – Over 50 Years In Service

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This Navy Reserve P-3 Orion maritime patrol craft based in Washington makes occasional visits to Eugene, using the airport for repeated touch and go practice. That means literally overhead, when I’m at Jerry’s in their outside lumber yard. So I whipped out the camera and peeled off a few shots as it slowly whooshed by overhead. Based on the Lockheed Electra, this is one of three aircraft types still in military service that are over fifty years old, and is scheduled to be replaced before long. Sorry for the crummy picture; the blobs are grains of dust in my lens that show up on full zoom. So here’s a better shot:

Lockeed P3

I have a soft spot for these, as I used to see them constantly from our house in Los Gatos, coming in slowly over the Santa Cruz mountains for a landing at Moffet, where the giant dirigible hangars are. The dirigibles were used during WW2 for a similar role, patrolling the coast for approaching ships. The Orion’s role is primarily for submarine detection.

The P-3 was scheduled to be replaced by an updated version, the P-7, but the order was cancelled after the end of the Cold War. The P-3 joins the B-52 and KC-135 as the oldest planes still in service, all three designs being over fifty years old.

One, and sometimes two, of the Allison T56 turboprops are shut down while on patrol, to conserve fuel and increase range. The longest flight of a P-3 was 21.5 hours. Potential crew members are screened for ADD 🙂  The P-3 will begin to be replaced shortly by the P-8, based on the Boeing 737-800 airliner.

Lockheed electraII

The P-3 is of course based on the Lockeed Electra, which entered service in 1958, just before the jet age. It suffered three fatal crashes, requiring extensive modification. That scared off the public, and the Electra was built only in modest numbers. As a aconsequence, they were not a common sight, even in the sixties. But PSA was still flying some in the first few years after I moved to CA in the mid-late seventies. Once the problems were fixed, it was a reliable and efficient workhorse.