April 23rd, 2011, 04:21 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2009
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Upgraded Orions due back
The first of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's refurbished Orion patrol aircraft is due back in Auckland today after a multi-million dollar upgrade which should keep the aircraft in the air for another 15 years.
The six Orions, now 46 years old, are getting new surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation and communication systems at a cost of $373 million. The upgrades will allow the air force to extend the Orions' role far wider than their traditional maritime surveillance.
The first upgraded Orion has been renamed as a P-3K2 and is due to touch down at the Whenuapai air base in Auckland today.
The air force said the upgrade was a significant milestone and a ``quantum leap forward in technology''.
It would improve the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability during military operations or other missions supporting other Government agencies.
The air force said the upgraded gear in the Orions would introduce a significant and fundamental change in the operation of the Orion to include overland operations as well as its traditional maritime operations.
Instead of being a maritime patrol force it would be known as an Airborne Surveillance and Response Force.
The modifications included upgraded communications, navigation, surveillance and data management systems.
The Orions would have a ``glass flight deck'' and the package included a flight deck trainer, a crew trainer, system and software testing and integration laboratories and flight planning systems.
The first Orion was upgraded in Greenville, Texas, and the other five would be done at the Safe Air NZ plant at Woodbourne, Blenheim.
The Government earlier said the fleet was critical to meeting its defence policies and other roles, including the surveillance of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
However, obsolete gear on the aircraft limited surveillance flights and other missions because they were repeatedly breaking down.
The air force was also facing increasing difficulties meetings its commitments to Australia and Five Power Defence Partners because of the obsolescence of the Orions, the Government said.
The first five Orions were delivered in 1965 and a sixth was bought second hand in 1985.
On long missions they could shut down two engines and stay in the air for more than 15 hours.
The Orions have been widely used on search and rescue missions around New Zealand's search and rescue zone, the largest in the world, and on surveillance flights around the world's fourth largest EEZ.
The aircraft had a systems upgrade about 30 years ago and new wings were fitted 11 years ago.
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