18 Apr 2024

NZ's only retired Orion aeroplane goes on display at Air Force Museum

11:08 am on 18 April 2024
Lockheed P-3K2 Orion

The historic P-3K2 Orion aircraft has been retired after 54 years of patrols, disaster relief and rescue missions. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Aviation enthusiasts will get the first chance to see the Royal New Zealand Air Force's only retired Orion aeroplane when it's displayed at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch this week.

The historic P-3K2 Orion aircraft was retired after 54 years of patrols, disaster relief and rescue missions.

The Air Force Museum is holding four open days from 18-21 April, after which it could take years for the plane to be back on show while the museum invests in a multi-million-dollar building big enough to house it.

Brett Marshall

Museum director Brett Marshall. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Museum director Brett Marshall said the Orion had clocked 27,000 flying hours in its career, and earned a proud reputation.

"Throughout its career the lives it's saved by finding those that are lost in the ocean or other means would probably be in the thousands," he said.

The museum said it was an Orion that flew to search for the overdue Air NZ DC10 lost on Erebus, and Orions were among the first aircraft over Christchurch after the 2011 earthquakes.

"Although we have the aircraft here, one thing is, the aircraft is really to tell the story of the men and women that have maintained the aircraft, operated the aircraft throughout the many, many years and it would be thousands of New Zealanders that have been involved in that," Marshall said.

Lockheed P-3K2 Orion

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The Orion had been reassembled after its big trip from the Air Force's base in Woodbourne last year.

"There the wings were taken off, the engines taken off, and propellors etc... and they were all loaded onto large trucking vehicles. The trucking company did a fantastic job bringing them down from Woodbourne all the way to Christchurch.

"There was one bridge where the fuselage was too wide to fit over the bridge, so there was a wee ford in the stream so it had to ford the stream beside the bridge," Marshall said.

Lockheed P-3K2 Orion

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The aircraft is the only Orion in the RNZAF's fleet of six to be conserved.

"This aircraft is huge, and unfortunately when the public will get to see it it doesn't have the tail section on because we don't have any buildings big enough for that," Marshall said.

The Air Force Museum was expecting to get a newly retired C-130H Hercules next year, and was developing plans to build an exhibition hall so both planes could be displayed in full.

The project was expected to cost up to $20 million, and Marshall was keen for it to be finished by 2027- which was the RNZAF's 90th anniversary.

"We're starting the fund-raising for that now. I think it's a great opportunity and fantastic to honour these aircraft and the service to the country they've given."

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