Orion makes last epic journey at Edinburgh

In recognition of the Orion’s distinguished service in the Royal Australian Air Force for more than 50 years, a decommissioned aircraft now takes pride of place at the RAAF Base Edinburgh front gate.

CAPTION: An M-113 armoured recovery vehicle from Army’s 1st Combat Service Support Battalion tows Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion A9-658 ‘cross-country’ during its relocation to the front gate of RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia. Photo by Corporal Brenton Kwaterski.

The refurbished Orion A09-658 was selected to be the gate guard, and was towed into position along West Rd at Edinburgh on 1 November by an Army M-113 APC.

A significant operation for this Orion, which began its RAAF service in 1985, was the aerial search for the missing MH370 aircraft in March and April 2014.

Former AP-3C Orion navigator and tactical coordinating officer and now director-general Air Force History and Heritage Branch Air Commodore John Meier said the gate-guard honour highlighted the importance of preserving Air Force history for future generations.

“The location of the aircraft at the front gate at Edinburgh reinforces the dedication, sacrifice and exemplary service of the many Royal Australian Air Force and civilian personnel who have supported the P-3 Orions since 1968,” he said.

“The History and Heritage Branch has an ongoing commitment to preserving the history of service to the nation by the Orions, as represented by this magnificent new gate guard.”

Flight Lieutenant Rob Nieuwenhoven was second in charge of the Orion gate-guard project, which began in April last year.

“The success of the project has clearly been through the commitment and talent of members supporting the refurbishment, which required repairs and restoration, while ensuring the historical heritage of the aircraft was retained,” he said.

“It was a delicate balance, but one which we have achieved.”

Since its introduction to the Air Force on 26 January 1968, the Orions’ operational history has included maritime patrol support to Operations Slipper, Resolute and Gateway.

The Orions, based at Edinburgh, had roles in anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, maritime surveillance, Navy fleet support, and rescue and supply missions.

Aircraft A09-658 was the first Orion to be built in Palmdale, California, and was accepted into the RAAF in July 1985, arriving at RAAF Base Edinburgh in August that year.

A09-658’s final flight was on 21 October 2016, at which time it was withdrawn from active service and used as a taxi-able ground trainer for No. 92 Wing and, a year later, as a static training aid for No. 292 Squadron.

The aircraft’s decommissioning began in June 2018 and it was earmarked for the gate-guard duty.

Retiring Orions are being replaced by the P-8A Poseidon, which entered service in late 2016, and, into the future, the unmanned MQ-4C Triton.

Senior Australian Defence Force Officer – RAAF Base Edinburgh Air Commodore Brendan Rodgers said the AP-3C Orion gate guard was a fitting tribute to the aircraft’s operational history and achievements.

Managed by the Surveillance and Response Systems Program Office, the gate-guard project included contributions by Air Force’s No. 10 maintenance section, No. 3 Security Forces Squadron, Army’s 1st Brigade units 1st Combat Service Support Battalion and 1st Armoured Regiment, as well as consultation and support from Estate and Infrastructure Group, Air Force History and Heritage Branch and some external organisations.

The final stage of the gate guard’s refurbishment will now begin in preparation for the official unveiling, which is planned to be held during next year’s Centenary of Air Force.

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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