The Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 5 Squadron’s much-loved P-3K2 Orion aircraft put on a show in the skies over New Zealand’s North Island today, before the fleet retires at the end of the month after more than 55 years of service.
CAPTION: RNZAF’s 5SQN conduct their final P-3 Orion flypast over the North Island before the retirement of their fleet. RNZAF photo.
A three-ship formation flight departed RNZAF Base Auckland, at Whenuapai, and flew over Waikato, Manawatū, Napier, Tauranga, Coromandel Coast, Great Barrier Island and Whangārei, with close formation fly-pasts over Ohakea, and Wellington and Auckland harbours.
The first P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft first arrived in New Zealand in 1966 and, since then, the type has carried out airborne surveillance and reconnaissance missions around the globe.
Although New Zealand’s areas of economic interest, exclusive economic zone, the South Pacific and the Southern Ocean were its primary operating areas, the P-3 Orion operated over every continent through its life – covering missions from Antarctica to the Arctic, the Middle East, South East Asia and through Europe and North America.
The fleet of six Orions has provided a range of services to government agencies and communities, including fisheries and customs surveillance, search and rescue missions, and humanitarian aid and disaster relief; alongside security and stability operations in the Middle East and South East Asia working for United Nations and Combined Maritime Forces Commands.
RNZAF No. 5 Squadron Commanding Officer Wing Commander Glen Donaldson said it was a bittersweet moment to farewell a faithful old friend.
“The Orion has looked after not just our crews for nearly 60 years, but all of New Zealand and our friends and neighbours in the Pacific,” Wing Commander Donaldson said.
In total, the six P-3 Orions have flown just under 150,000 hours of service.
This has included such milestones as the search for flight MH-370 which disappeared in 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing; the Queen’s Birthday 1994 search and rescue in which they assisted several vessels caught in a huge storm during the Auckland to Suva yacht race; becoming the first aircraft to provide reconnaissance after the Hunga Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai eruption, alongside countless missions after cyclones devastated Pacific islands; counter narcotics, anti-piracy, and anti-smuggling security missions in the Middle East; and, more recently, security patrols for the UN in the East China Sea to counter smuggling activity to North Korea.
From hunting submarine periscopes in the North Sea on exercise with allied partners to finding people clinging to fishing buoys in the South Pacific, the P-3 Orion really has seen the world and made a huge contribution to individuals, to communities, to New Zealand and to global partners.
“That life-saving sound of a P-3 overhead, heard by many, will now be gone,” Wing Commander Donaldson said.
“But for all those people who have had any sort of interaction with the aircraft, she’ll always be in our hearts and memories.”
Four P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft will replace the Orion fleet and will be based at RNZAF Base Ohakea.
“This is certainly an historic time to celebrate the long service of an amazing aircraft, but also an exciting time as we transition to a new era of maritime patrol which will continue to serve the people of New Zealand faithfully,” Wing Commander Donaldson said.
In total, over the past 57 years the fleet has flown 147,978.2 hours.
Total hours for each airframe: