Naval Air: P-3s In Peril

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December 20, 2007: The U.S. Navy has grounded a quarter of its 161 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft. The reason is age related metal fatigue in the wings. The average age of the P-3Cs is 28 years, and this sort of thing is common with older aircraft. The navy believes that it will have all, or most, of the grounded aircraft back in service within three years. It will take 18-24 months to repair each aircraft, and some may be too far gone and will be scrapped. The aircraft have to be partially disassembled for replacement parts or reinforcing elements to be installed. The navy is developing a replacement aircraft, the P-8A, which is not expected to be operational for another twelve years.

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 aircraft is based on the 1950s era Lockheed Electra airliner. The last P-3 was built in 1990. Likely replacements 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."

 


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