Lockheed Opens Wing Production Line to Keep P-3 Orions Flying
There are over 500 maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft around the world, some 85% of which are P-3 Orions. In service with 15 countries (including India’s recent adoption), they have accumulated over 14 million flying hours performing a wide variety of missions. Including a surprising overland role in locations like Kosovo and Afghanistan. As DID has noted in its ongoing coverage of the P-3 platform and its upgrades, however, the Orions are near the end of their service life and require extensive efforts to keep them in the air. Some are over twice as old as the pilots flying them. Worse, P-3 Structural Life Assessment Program (SLAP) tests showed that their inherently punishing mission profiles were accumulating fatigue damage faster than previously believed.
In order to keep the P-3s flying safely until replacement aircraft like the 737-based P-8 MMA become available, customers are making unusual efforts. Fortunately, Lockheed Martin is also taking steps.
The firm will open a new outer wing production line at its Marietta, GA facility supporting service life extension of the P-3 and CP-140 aircraft around the world. The kit includes the outer wing plus a center wing lower surface, horizontal stabilizer, wing and horizontal stabilizer leading edges, and filet fairings. It also incorporates design enhancements and new materials with increased corrosion resistance that are expected to provide P-3 operators an additional 15,000 hours of service life at significantly reduced maintenance costs and down time, and increased aircraft availability.
Since the wings of an aircraft accumulate the most fatigue (a problem the US military has experienced with its heavy transport aircraft as well), re-winging older P-3s was seen as the lowest risk and most cost-effective solution for extending the P-3 service life. Rick Kirkland, head of Lockheed Martin’s Maritime Surveillance Enterprise, noted that:
“With many of the P-3 aircraft in operation now reaching their service life limits sooner than expected, and with no affordable replacement maritime patrol aircraft available, a service life extension is the only way for nations to maintain this vital operational capability… There are numerous international and U.S. P-3 customers that will require P-3 life extension kits to sustain their aircraft. The production of the outer wing is a critical part of life extension that will provide an additional 20 years of service life… This approach enables an operator to maintain a maritime patrol presence at a fraction of the cost of a new aircraft. In addition, the customer can have a high degree of confidence in the cost and schedule because entire assemblies are being replaced with new material.”
The location for installing the kits will be a function of customer preference. Lockheed Martin or its authorized P-3 Orion Service Centers can install the life extension kits at a number of locations worldwide. At the moment, the US Navy says that it has no interest in this option for its own P-3C fleet.
The really interesting thing will be to see how this re-winging option affects some of the recent long-term, performance-based outsourced maintenance contracts for P-3 fleets like the Royal Australian Air Force AP-3Cs, Canada’s CP-140 Auroras, et. al.
A decision of this magnitude has likely been discussed with all parties beforehand – but if this option wasn’t already allowed for or incorporated into some of these recent maintenance contracts, a series of intense calculations and negotiations may well ensue.
Dec 17/07: The US Navy might become interested in this option after all. US NAVAIR issues an Air Frame Bulletin announcing the grounding of 39 P-3C Orion aircraft, which have been discovered to be “beyond known structural limits on the lower section of the P-3 wing.” Analysis and corrective measures are expected to take between 18 – 24 months per aircraft to complete.
The US Navy has a total of 161 P-3C aircraft in its inventory at this time, and 10 of the 39 grounded aircraft are currently deployed on operations. The grounded aircraft will either return to safe operation after replacement of critical structural components or will be removed from service.
March 7/07: DID – “Norway Re-Winging, Refurbishing Its P-3 Orions.” Norway takes Lockheed Martin up on this offer.
Nov 23/05: DefenseTech.org: “Old Planes Need Love.” Speaking of the Greenville Logistics Center, David Axe notes:
bq. “Lockheed Martin spokespeople David Jewel and Trish Pagan say that the tired airframes are requiring more and more maintenance and that upgrades are taking longer too. At any given time, there are 18-20 P-3s at the facility, most of them American. Some stay for as long as six months.”