New Zealand P-3 Orion Retires to Air Force Museum of New Zealand

NZ4203 on the Antarctic ice. It will be going 'on ice' again as it is stored until a suitable display building becomes available. [photo RNZAF]
Aircorps Art Dec 2019

By James Kightly, Commissioning Editor.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Lockheed P-3K2 Orion NZ4203 will be delivered to the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Christchurch, in September 2023.

The Lockheed P-3 Orion family (based on their L-188 Electra airliner) first entered service in 1962, and is one of the most successful maritime reconnaissance aircraft, used worldwide for well over half a century by more than 20 air arms, with 14 currently still operating the type. Over 750 were built by Lockheed in the US and Kawasaki in Japan.

The RNZAF are proud to tell us that NZ4203 is a New Zealand ‘national hero’, flying more than 27,000 hours during its 54-year career. It took part in hundreds of missions including search and rescue operations, and anti-submarine patrols and spent thousands of hours protecting New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Air Force Museum of New Zealand Director Brett Marshall said it had been a long wait to get an Orion: “To say we’re excited would be an understatement. NZ4203 will be the largest aircraft in our collection and one of the most significant. We are delighted to be able to ensure its preservation for the nation. We look forward to being able to tell the many stories associated with this extraordinary aircraft type which served us so well for so long.”

Built by Lockheed in Burbank, California in 1966, NZ4203 entered service with the RNZAF in April 1967. In 2021 NZ4203 became the first of the type to retire from service when it flew a farewell mission to land at RNZAF Base Woodbourne. NZ4203 served with No. 5 Squadron RNZAF, at RNZAF Base Whenuapai, Auckland, and was regularly upgraded to extend its lifespan, receiving new avionics and radio systems in the 1980s and new wings in the 1990s.

Mr Marshall said the Orion fleet had given a huge amount of service over 54 years and NZ4203 deserved a happy retirement at the museum where it will be preserved as the only surviving RNZAF example of the type, as it was for its last mission – minus any sensitive military equipment.

A familiar sight at many western airshows, the Lockheed P-3 Orion was also often seen in such a pass by ships and seafarers in trouble – or causing trouble! [photo RNZAF]

“NZ4203 was the first RNZAF Orion to land in Antarctica back in 2006. It has also taken part in numerous humanitarian and search and rescue missions and has been a lifesaver for many people who have found themselves needing help a long way from home.”

The aircraft was decommissioned at RNZAF Base Woodbourne in Blenheim and will arrive at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand by road in late August, where it will be stored in the museum’s reserve collection hangar until an exhibition space large enough to house it can be built.


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