AP-3C Orion

RAAF AP-3C Orion A9-658 takes off from RAAF Base Edinburgh

The AP-3C Orion is an extremely versatile aircraft, capable of:

  • land and maritime surveillance
  • anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare
  • naval fleet support, and
  • search and rescue operations.

Based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, the AP-3C Orion ceased 10 years of operational service in the Middle East in 2012, after completing 2400 missions with more than 3500 personnel deployed throughout the period.

The AP-3C Orion aircraft has deployed on operations Resolute, Gateway, and Solania; providing support to Border Protection and Fisheries patrols within the South East Asia and Pacific regions.

Due to the AP-3C's excellent surveillance abilities, it has been called on to assist in maritime search and rescue operations, including survivor search and supply (air drop) missions. Notably, the AP-3C Orion was the primary Australian aircraft used in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

The AP-3C Orion is in the process of a graduated draw down to retirement, with the final aircraft planned for withdrawal in 2023. The AP-3C will be replaced by the P-8A Poseidon and MQ-4C Triton, which will perform the vital functions of long range maritime patrol.

About the Aircraft

The Orion aircraft first entered military service in 1968 as the P-3B model.

The P-3C variant was introduced in 1978, and underwent several significant upgrades before it became the current AP-3C Orion, which was introduced into service in 2002.

Far from the original P-3B model, the P-3C is now fitted with a variety of sensors, including:

  • digital multi-mode radar
  • electronic support measures
  • electro-optics detectors (infra-red and visual)
  • magnetic anomaly detectors
  • friend or foe identification systems, and
  • acoustic detectors.


Manufacturer Lockheed Martin
Role Maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare
  • Pilot, co-pilot
  • Two flight engineers
  • Tactical commander
  • Navigator/communication officer
  • Sensor employment manager
  • Up to six airborne electronic analysts.
Engine Four Allison T56-A-14 (4600 shaft horsepower each)
Airframe Length: 35.6m, height: 10.44m
Wingspan 30.8m
Max Weight 61,200kg
Speed 750km/h (405 knots) maximum, 650km/h cruise (350 kts) at 26,000 feet, 370km/h (200 kts) loiter
Endurance 15 hours
Ceiling 35,000 feet
  • Sonobuoys
  • Maritime Marker Devices
  • Air-Sea Rescue Kit
  • Survival Air Heliboxes
  • Self protection measures
Weapons/ stores
  • Mk 46 lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes
  • AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles