The Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 5 Squadron’s bid farewell to the P-3K2 Orion aircraft with a final flight over the North Island on January 24, before the fleet retires at the end of the month after more than 55 years of service.
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 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 (UN) and Combined Maritime Forces Commands.
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.
New Zealand retired the first P-3K2 Orion airborne surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in September 2021, ahead of the arrival of four P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft that will replace the Orion fleet. The first of the new Poseidon aircraft landed in Aotearoa New Zealand last month and will be based at RNZAF Base Ohakea.
“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,” Wing Commander Donaldson said.
In total, over the past 57 years the fleet has flown 147,978.2 hours.