The RNZAF took delivery of five P-3B Orions in 1966 (NZ4201 – NZ4205) to replace its fleet of Short Sunderlands.

In 1985 a sixth aircraft, an ex-RAAF P-3B, was purchased and given tail number NZ4206.

Powered by four Allison T56 turboprop engines, the Orion fleet was perfectly suited to maritime reconnaissance, surveillance, and anti-submarine warfare roles.

They conducted a range of tasks including surveillance of New Zealand’s areas of interest such as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the South Pacific and the Southern Ocean including the Ross Dependency and Antarctica.

They supported a range of Government agencies, including Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand Customs, New Zealand Police, and the Department of Conservation. They supported the community and New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours 24/7 for 365 days of the year with contingency capability for tasks such as search and rescue and support in the event of natural disasters.

All six aircraft were upgraded, including their avionics and radio systems, under project RIGEL in the early 1980s and were redesignated P-3K aircraft.

In the late 1990s the aircraft were re-winged under project KESTRAL, which extended their service life, and they were designated as P-3K2 Orions following extensive modernisation of their navigation, mission and communication systems.

The Orions delivered exceptional service for more than 50 years and were much loved by their crews.

The fleet was progressively retired from 2021 and replaced with Boeing P-8A Poseidon jet aircraft.


Built by Lockheed in Burbank California in 1966, NZ4203 entered service with the RNZAF in April 1967 and served with No. 5 Squadron at RNZAF Base Whenuapai.

NZ4203 was the first RNZAF Orion to land in Antarctica in 2006. It also took part in numerous humanitarian and search and rescue missions and was a lifesaver for many people who have found themselves needing help a long way from home.

With 27,000 flying hours, NZ4203 was the most ‘experienced’ Orion when the decision was made to retire the fleet and it was the first of the type to be withdrawn from service in September 2021 when it landed at RNZAF Base Woodbourne for the final time.

The aircraft was decommissioned at Woodbourne and arrived at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand by road in September 2023 where it is stored in the reserve collection in preparation for future display.