New Zealand fully retires P-3K2 Orion MPA

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) retired the last three Lockheed Martin P-3K2 Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) at the end of January 2023 after 57 years of service.

The service noted that a three-ship formation flight – operated by No 5 Squadron – departed RNZAF Base Auckland, at Whenuapai on 24 January 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.

Two of the aircraft transited to RNZAF Base Woodbourne where they are put into storage.

“This is certainly a 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,” said No 5 Squadron Commanding Officer Wing Commander Glen Donaldson.

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 (UN) and Combined Maritime Forces Commands.

The service’s P-3K2 MPA fleet originally comprised six aircraft. The first arrived in New Zealand in 1966, with the RNZAF pointing out that the type has conducted airborne surveillance and reconnaissance missions well beyond New Zealand’s immediate interests such as its exclusive economic zone, the South Pacific and the Southern Ocean. These included missions from Antarctica to the Arctic, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and through Europe and North America.

The P-3K2 MPA fleet have flown almost 150,000 hours throughout its service, with notable highlights such as the search for multinational search Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in 2014 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The retirement of the last three aircraft paves the way for the replacement fleet of four Boeing P-8A Orion MPAs that will be based at No 5 Squadron’s new home at RNZAF Base Ohakea. The first of the new aircraft arrived in December 2022 with the remainder arriving in February, March, and April respectively.

by Jr Ng