html> Ageing Orions just keep flying
Ageing Orions just keep flying


One of the Air Force's ageing Orion patrol planes has logged 20,000 hours in the air - more than two years and 103 days of continuous flying.

The aircraft crossed the milestone in November, about the same time a report labelled the airframes of the Air Force's Orions the "most fatigued in the world".

The most heavily flown Orion is one of five "B" versions bought in 1966 - before most New Zealanders were born. A sixth Orion was bought from Australia in 1985.

After 38 years of being fitted with new parts, the Orions are now designated as "K" versions and are expected to keep flying until they are 50 years old.

The Orion flight hours were revealed in an Air Force publication which said one of the aircraft crossed the 20,000- hour milestone during Task Group Troy flights in the Middle East.

The detachment's commander, Wing Commander Andrew Clark, told Air Force News the Orions coped well with the region's harsh conditions.

"Our maintenance teams have done an outstanding job at keeping the airframes serviceable," he said.

The Orions were upgraded 22 years ago under Project Rigel, and got new wings four years ago under Project Kestrel.

In an Air Force briefing in Atlanta, Georgia, late last year, Flight Lieutenant Pete Franken spoke of pre-Kestrel fatigue and corrosion problems caused by the parts of the aircraft being "the most fatigued in the world".

A United States Navy paper said 20,000 hours was the limit of an Orion's useful life, but this could be extended to 24,000 hours with upgrades.

Another US Air Force report said the useful life of military and civilian aircraft used to be 20 years, but this figure was blowing out because of budget constraints.


Flight hours of RNZAF's six P3K Orions:

NZ4201 18,780

NZ4202 19,499

NZ4203 20,002

NZ4204 17,920

NZ4205 19,247

NZ4206 15,188

Total 110,636

Vital statistics

Manufacturer: Lockheed (US)

Power: Four Allison turboprop engines

Length: 36m

Wingspan: 30.4m

Height: 10.3m

Weight (empty): 30.4 tonnes

Weight (full): 54.9 tonnes

Cruising speed: 630km/h

Endurance: 15 hours (with two engines switched off)

Crew: 11