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 is currently deployed on operations Resolute, Gateway, and Solania, where it provides 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 is often 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