Navy retiring aircraft that hunted submarines, gathered surveillance
KALAELOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - After more than 50 years in Hawaii, a fleet of planes that were once considered workhorses for naval surveillance operations will soon be flown for the final time over the islands.
Starting in 1964, dozens of P-3 Orion aircraft were stationed across Oahu, first at Barbers Point and then at the Kaneohe Marine base.
"It did a number of missions," said retired Navy flight engineer Doug Gillette. "From anti-submarine warfare, shipping surveillance, sea and air rescue, VIP runs."
In addition to its surveillance duties, the aircraft also carried weapons. Gillette, for example, spent 24 years flying on the turbo-prop planes, including combat missions over Vietnam and in the first Gulf War.
During the Cold War, P-3's scoured the oceans for Soviet subs.
"Besides the submarines out of Pearl Harbor and destroyers looking for them, P-3 Orion guys were out there looking for them as well," said Brad Sekigawa, a historian at the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point.
Despite their storied history, the Navy says it is phasing out Orions for a more modern jet aircraft.
"Parts will be sold to foreign nations that still operate the P-3, and the rest will probably be mothballed and then probably later scrapped," Sekigawa said.
At their peak, there were about 50 P-3's stationed in Hawaii. A year ago, 1,000 personnel were attached to Hawaii's remaining three P-3 squadrons.
The last squadron leaves Thursday, taking 300 sailors and the final four Orion aircraft with it.
"It is sad because when you talk about availability and what it can do, it's a great airplane," Gillette said.
"It did its job very well," Sekigawa added.
After the Navy's P-3 Orions leave Hawaii for the last time you'll still be able to see the planes. Two decommissioned P-3s are already on display at Barber's Point Naval Air museum.
To view more photos of the P-3 Orion fleet on your mobile device, click here.
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