After 57 years of operation, New Zealand retires its P-3 Orions.

The end of January also marked the closing of a long chapter in the history of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). After 57 years of operation and nearly 150,000 flight hours, the country has written off its P-3 Orion maritime patrol planes. 

The first five aircraft, originally designated the P-3B, arrived in the country in 1966, with a further aircraft being purchased in 1985 from neighboring Australia. Since then, the P-3 has been one of the most important vectors of the RNZAF, which celebrated the retirement of turboprop veterans with a series of overflights and low pass on January 26th. 

In formation, three P-3K2s, as the planes were designated after extensive modernization, passed through important points in the country, such as Tauranga, Napier, Ohakea, Great Barrier Island, the capital Wellington and New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland.

Over the nearly 60 years of service, the P-3s accumulated 147,978.2 hours of flight time, operating in the most diverse situations, some of which were operational milestones, such as the search for flight MH370 and the aerial reconnaissance of the eruption of the Hunga Tonga volcano. 

Hunga-Ha’apai. The presence of P-3K2s in search and rescue missions, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, combating drug trafficking, and special operations support was also common. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for us, where we have to say goodbye to an old faithful fri+++end who has looked after not only our crews for nearly 60 years, but all of New Zealand and our friends and neighbors in the Pacific,” says Captain of Ala Glen Donaldson, commander of 5 Squadron of the RNZAF, unit that operated the P-3 since its arrival in the country.

“That lifesaving sound of a P-3 overhead heard by many will be gone. But for all the people who had some kind of interaction with the aircraft, it will always be in our hearts and memories”, completes the official. 

The write-off of the planes was only scheduled for mid-2023, but it was brought forward for budgetary reasons. New Zealand is replacing its six legendary P-3K2s with four Boeing P-8 Poseidons, a model considered a “natural successor” to Lockheed’s maritime patrol. The first P-8 arrived in the country in December. 

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