• Former RAAF members and their families queuing to see an Orion at RAAF Edinburgh.
    Former RAAF members and their families queuing to see an Orion at RAAF Edinburgh. Defence

The RAAF formally celebrated 50 years of Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime surveillance operations with a multi-ship low-level formation flight around Adelaide and environs on November 30.

Initially intended to be a four-ship formation, one aircraft suffered technical problems before take-off and did not get airborne, however the other three aircraft completed the mission as planned.

The flypast was followed by a short ceremony, attended by Chief of Air Force Air Marshal ‘Leo’ Davies, Commander, Surveillance and Response Group Craig Heap, the current Orion community and P-3 alumni. A families’ event the day following the flypast rounded out the celebrations.

The venerable P-3 entered service in January 1968 and, because the fleet has been home-based at Edinburgh throughout its career, the 50th anniversary flypast was one way of thanking the people of SA for half a century of support.

“From the first P-3B in 1968 to today’s AP-3C, the Orion capability has been defined by cutting edge sensors and mission equipment,” AIRCDRE Heap told invited guests. “The Orion crew has always been a team, whether it was keeping close watch on Soviet ballistic missile submarines during the Cold War, or protecting coalition, Afghan or Iraqi lives in the Middle East, the personnel and the platform - along with the high-tech sensors and mission systems that form the Orion capability - have been there for Australia for 50 years,  dedicated, professional, reliable, resilient, persistent.

“From searching for MH370 to assisting the liberation of Marawi City in the Philippines, from locating the Soviet experimental space shuttle to the battle of Fallujah in Iraq, the Orion was there. It has been a critical component of ADF air power over the last 50 years.”

The celebrations also had an air of farewell about them however, as the Orion fleet continues to be drawn down. There were just six aircraft from an original fleet of 19 AP-3Cs in service with 10 Sqn at the end of November and retirements will continue in coming days, weeks and months, leaving only a small number to operate until the very end of P-3 flying in the 2021-2023 timeframe.

The AP-3C is being replaced initially by the Boeing P-8A Poseidon and the future of ADF maritime surveillance capability will also include the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high altitude, long endurance (HALE) unmanned platform.

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