After six years of effort, the U.S. Navy has created its first of five Tactical Operational Readiness Trainer (TORT) for the P-3 anti-submarine warfare aircraft. This is a computer simulator that completely simulates the environment the crew of a P-3 operates in. This enables the entire crew, including the two pilots, to train together using the same equipment they have on an actual P-3. The five TORT simulators are replacing older models that did not simulate all the equipment on a P-3, nor the latest models of gear found on the P-3.
A major reason for the TORT simulators is the need to fly the aging P-3s less, while still keeping the crews well practiced with their equipment. While most P-3 missions are ten hours of tedium, a few hours in TORT can run a crew through several of the more challenging situations they would encounter in wartime, or while dealing with some kind of peacetime emergency. The TORT can be run more than 20 hours a day, seven days a week (to accommodate reservists on weekends).
The average age of the U.S. P-3Cs is 29 years. The U.S. Navy is developing a replacement aircraft for the P-3, the P-8A, which is not expected to be operational for another decade. The P-3 entered service in 1962. The current version (the P-3C) has a cruise speed of 610 kilometers per hour, endurance of up to 13 hours and a crew of eleven. The 116 foot long, propeller driven aircraft has a wingspan of nearly 100 feet. The P-3C can carry about ten tons of weapons (torpedoes, mines, or missiles like Harpoon and Maverick).
The 63 ton P-3 is based on the 1950s era Lockheed Electra airliner. The last P-3 was built in 1990. A more likely replacement for these elderly search planes, are UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), like Global Hawk or smaller aircraft like Predator. These UAVs typically stay in the air for 24 hours, or more, at a time. What maritime reconnaissance aircraft need, more than anything else, is endurance or, as the professionals like to put it, "persistence."