Orion stripped for upgrade

The first of the Air Force's six P3 Orion aircraft to get a major upgrade has been stripped of most of its instruments and systems in America.

The Orion is in Greenville, Texas, where it will stay for two years while it is fitted with new missions systems, communications and navigation systems. Orion 4204 has been put into a long-term preservation state while the American company that won the contract strips the aircraft of most of its instruments and systems for the upgrade.

The Orion will be completely upgraded and returned to the Air Force in 2008 as part of the $350 million fleet programme. The other five aircraft will be upgraded at Safe Air in Blenheim with the last due to be finished in 2010.

The Orions are mainly surveillance aircraft used to protect one of the world's largest exclusive economic zones and one of the largest search and rescue zones.

The Orions are nearly 40 years old. The Air Force has been having increasing difficulty keeping them airborne because of the lack of spare parts for obsolete systems.