End of an era: Navy’s P-3C Orion embarks on its final deployment

By: J.D. Simkins 

It’s been 50 years since the P-3C Orion first took flight for the Navy.

Since then, the hulking aircraft has flown missions during the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, participated in countless search and rescue efforts, and created an invaluable network of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data.

At the end of March, the “Fighting Marlins” of Patrol Squadron 40 began shipping out from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state, destined for Bahrain’s Sheik Isa Air Base and Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base, taking with them the Navy’s longtime workhorse for its sundown deployment.

Designed to replace the P-2 Neptune, Lockheed Martin’s P-3A first entered the Navy in 1962.

“We intend to honor the platform’s final deployment by living the legacy of all those that have gone before us and continuing to fight to the finish,” Cmdr. Patrick O’Reilly, VP-40’s commanding officer, told the Whidbey News-Times.

The Fighting Marlins will continue their current mission following the conclusion of their deployment to the Navy’s 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operations, but will do so using advanced P-8A Poseidon planes.

The sea service began transitioning surveillance squadrons to that aircraft in 2013.

The Orion, meanwhile, “had its challenges,” O’Reilly conceded, especially in recent years due to the strain of a surging tempo of operations, but sailors fought them “with exceptional results” and he remains proud of what Patrol Squadron 40 accomplished in the plane.

“Even when the aircraft fought against us, even when the tempo was high and the days were long, we continued to fight,” he said.

Despite VP-40 closing the door on the Orion’s active-duty service, two Navy Reserve squadrons — NAS Jacksonville’s Patrol Squadron 62 and Whidbey Island’s Patrol Squadron 69 — will continue flying the plane.

The last P-3C Orion is expected to be phased out in 2023, ending more than six decades of service for the line of aircraft.

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