P-3s Grounded: “This Is Serious.”

30.12.07

Categorie: Accidents, Air, Reality Check |

The Navy has grounded around a third of its decades-old P-3 patrol plane fleet due to fatigue. The news comes on the heels of a near-fatal F-15 disintegration that led to the Air Force grounding all 400 of its early-model F-15 fighters. An industry insider has all the shocking details about the weary P-3s in a WIB exclusive:

What happened was that one of the P-3 had either an emergency refused takeoff or an emergency landing and it was a bit rough so they did an inspection and found a 300-inch crack in a lower wing spar. The prompted an inspection of many of the other aircraft (not sure this was all or some portion based on airframe hours). Similar cracks were found in many. What hasn’t been in the [news] articles is that the grounded aircraft are the ones with all the current/most recent system upgrades. We will be left with using much less capable P-3s. Normal usage is 30 hours per month. Between very heavy low-altitude use in Afghanistan and increased tempo in some other parts of the world, that 30-hour rate has exploded to 140 hours per month. 

Lockheed at first priced a wing fix at $20 million per aircraft and would take each one out of service for approximately 6 months. They recently decided the price is more like $40 million per aircraft. 

Alternatively the program office is in crisis talks with Boeing on speeding up the P-8A. Alternate development and configuration scenarios are being looked at to drastically speed up the 2013 production decision (it’s April 2013 now). P-8A had its [Comprehensive Design Review] this past June and the first fuselage was just put in the jig. There is a very long and complex development and testing program in place that gets it to 2013. Even with minimal testing (and great risk) this could be cut, but you are still looking at years. The first 3 aircraft are testing ships with increasing degrees of equipment and are the only ones funded in the current [System Design and Development] contract.  Due to development and procurement issues in some sub-systems, even the third test aircraft is not going to be 100% (content to be deferred to the yet to be contracted 4th aircraft/1st production aircraft). It would take a major contract restructure and $$$ to turn these first three into usable mission aircraft. 

Unlike the F-15, there are no back-ups/alternatives/work-arounds. They [the P-3s] have been vital in Afghanistan and thus the 140-hour-per-month tempo. The remaining P-3s have been used at an increasing rate as parts queens for the ones grounded and when they do fly, systems [are]unavailable do to part shortages. This is really serious.

Related:
Old planes need love
Inside America’s Pacific outpost
Drones to replace P-3s?

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9 Responses to “P-3s Grounded: “This Is Serious.””

  1. FooMan says:

    I spent several years in Jacksonville FLA watching the NARF (Naval Air Rework Facility) trying to resurrect the fleets P-3′s. The newest of the airframes are over thirty years old and low altitude flying in salt water environments is not conduisive to long airframe life-spans. Add new heavier weapons and sensor load-out to further stress the aircraft (and crews), then add a ten year delay for the replacement aircraft, couple in a prolonged development cycle for the replacement when you finally get it and then wonder in amazement when the airframes start to fail. The only reason that there are even engines available for the P-3′s is that the air force (and the world’s) C-130′s use the same engines (also the E-2 Hawkeyes [another airframe long overdue for replacement]). The NARFS continue to try and rebuild the aircraft but you can only rebuild a plane built to fly in the this environment so many times. How many times have we cut back the strength of the B-52 fleet and their total flying hours trying to preserve that resource? There are very few air craft that are so well known in their functions that long after they cease to be state of the art they are perceived to be THE air craft for that mission, (F-14, B-52, E-2, P-3, C-130).

  2. JV says:

    Why does the P-3 mission require a specialized airframe? Couldn’t a 737 or something similar be packed with the necessary avionics, sensors, etc? Not trying to be cheap, just curious.

  3. Mike S says:

    The P-8A is a 737-800 modified to fly anti-submarine missions. There are major structural mods required to fly the Navy’s low-altitude, dynamic missions instead of the high-altitude, don’t-disturb-the-passengers commercial flights. It takes years to design, fabiricate and test a new aircraft.

  4. sokala says:

    The mods to the 737 airframe are fairly significant to make it into a P-8A: A large bomb bay, multiple hard points under each wing, an array antennas, EO pods, search radar, etc, etc. The days when a commercial airframe was “over built” to accommodate the unknowns the engineering tools couldn’t refine are long gone and so that extra margin doesn’t exist that a military derivative could subsequently leverage. All that extra demand on the airframe and systems has to be designed in now long after the basic and original design was refined for a different use (i.e. cruise at 30 K for hours vs. fly at 200 feet and turn tight circles for hours in icing conditions).

  5. [...] “This is serious.” Old planes need love Inside America’s Pacific outpost Drones to replace P-3s? No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  6. JV says:

    Mike S and sokala, thanks for your comments. Makes sense to me.

  7. [...] Related: P-3 rebuilds botched “This is serious.” Old planes need love Inside America’s Pacific outpost Drones to replace P-3s? No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  8. Brian says:

    The Navy could have replaced the aging P-3 Fleet with the C-130. They are still building them. Squadrons could have been designated as Composite Squadrons, slide in an ASW Suite in the back, haul cargo, refuel, etc. It is an easy transition for the pilots. The reserves transitioned one P-3 squadron to C-130′s. Would have saved a lot of money!

  9. [...] The Navy’s 30-year-old P-3 patrol planes are rusting away faster than ever. With more nations buying submarines, and the P-3’s land-surveillance mission only growing in importance, this is a problem. [...]

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