The RAAF P-3s: Adelaide Says Farewell After 50 Years


After 50 years of military service for Australia, the Orion P-3 is being retired, leaving behind a legacy that includes rescuing sailors, searching for MH370, and Middle East missions.

On Tuesday the media was given a final flight on an AP-3C Orion, the third variant of the plane since Orions first entered the service to undertake marine surveillance duties in 1968.

“I think it’s the last of the real pilot’s aircraft in the Air Force,” Air Force Number 10 Squadron Commanding Officer and Wing Commander Colin Smith said….

We spent 10 years in the Middle East, flying in support of the Army and the multinational coalition against terror over there,” Wing Commander Smith said.

“And we’ve been doing border protection work for nearly 20 years now, with an aircraft continuously working to the north and north-west of Australia to protect the borders.”

The four-propeller Orions are being replaced with the jet-propelled P-8A Poseidons and unmanned MQ-4C Tritons.

“I could never see myself as being a jet jockey, but the P-8’s biggest advantage is it’s modern,” Wing Commander Smith said.

“It’s much more reliable than the P-3 and its computers and sensors are more capable, but it’s not as robust or versatile as the P-3, in my opinion.”

This ABC Radio story published on November 28, 2018 was complemented by a story in the Adelaide Advertiser published on November 29, 2018 by Michael McGuire.

The low-rumbling thrum four massive propeller engine fills the air and the old plane makes its way down the runway at RAAF Base Edinburgh and heads into the rainy Adelaide sky.

It sways and it rocks.

It creaks and it groans.

Its louder and a more elemental, primitive experience than stepping aboard a modern passenger jet.

And for 50 years the Orion has been Australia’s eyes and ears all over world….

But the days of the “last down and dirty warbird’’ in the Royal Australian Air Force are numbered.

They are being replaced by the sleek and modern form of new P8 jets, which are essentially re-purposed Boeing 737s, and soon the familiar sight of P-3s in the skies above Adelaide will be no more…..

The featured photo shows Flight Engineer, Flight Sergeant Joshua Rooney and Pilot, Squadron Leader Colin Smith of 11 Squadron during the flight to Exercise Albatros Ausindo 2008 in Bali, Indonesia.

This was the 9th iteration of Exercise Albatros aimed to enhance the relationship between the 11 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force and 5 Squadron of the Indonesian Air Force.

The Exercise was held from the 25th to the 29th of August 2008.

Now Squadron Leader Colin Smith is Wing Commander Smith, Commander of 10 Squadron.

He is quoted in the Adelaide Advertiserarticle as saying “It is said to see the role of the P-3 diminished.  I think it is the last of the real pilot’s aircraft in the air force.  The P-3 really is the last down and dirty warbird.”