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Cold War Warriors

Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion Operations 1968-1991


Ian Pearson

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2021

Hardback   356pp   RRP $39.99


Reviewer: Adrian Catt, March 2023


Commencing with the stand-up of 10 and 11 SQN (and latter 492 SQN at Butterworth, Malaysia), this outstanding reference book details the development, selection and introduction into RAAF service of Lockheed P-3 Orion Long-Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRMPA); replacing a fleet of ancient, cumbersome and agricultural Lincoln and Neptune aircraft with a platform which was faster, sophisticated, contemporary, and capable of evolving its technology to keep meeting Australia’s Defence, Coast watch and search and rescue (SAR) needs, across P-3B, P-3C and AP3-C versions for nearly 50 Years.

The RAAF always favoured the selection of P-3 Orions over its rival the Nimrod, but the Air Board and Federal Government were slow to ratify the decision to adopt them; but in doing so were able to incorporate the best of tech, as used by the US Navy, as well as specifying our own build requirements and taking on-going upgrades as they flowed from the Lockheed production lines.  Such changes would also necessitate the restructuring of some RAAF crews and musterings, so that on-board technology could be exploited to its fullest potential, with maximum crew efficiency.

Sourced from detailed unit histories, government records, pilot logs, and as told by the men who flew, crewed, and maintained the ubiquitous P-3’s, this comprehensive book exposes everything you could possibly want to know about the development, service and personnel associated with the P-3 Orions during the Cold War era. 

Covering parliamentary reporting, plagues of engine problems, and endless on-board electrical fires, we also learn of ‘cat-and-mouse’ intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sorties against a persistent Soviet presence in both the Indian and Southern Oceans.

Introduced to meet Australia’s LRMPA needs, the P-3’s served with distinction in many exercises (including Casex, Tacex, Intex, Fincastle, Subex), SAR missions, fishing zone and also exclusive economic zone enforcement of Australian waters – Fishex and Recex, (and those of our neighbours), as well as sorties against foreign naval vessels, mostly submarines with some contacts being ‘hot’. 

RAAF Orions patrolled as far east as Hawaii, and as far west as Hong Kong and India regularly.  Only two RAAF P-3 Orions were ever lost - one in a fireball crash-landing in Orlando USA, and the other in a ditching into a lagoon on Cocos Island.  A remarkable record considering such a lengthy period in service for the type.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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