December 13, 2022

The P-3 Orion is one of the most asked for planes MotoArt receives requests for and it’s no wonder. The P-3 has been in service for 60 years, and has proven itself as reliable and versatile in its many applications in countries all over the world. Read more about the P-3 Orion and N920AU, then get one for your collection when they are released on Thursday, December 15, 2022 at

What is the Lockheed P-3 Orion?

P 3 Orion

P-3C Orion, NAS North Island, Calif. (January 30, 2003)

030130-N-0226M-002 flickr photo by mashleymorgan shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license 


The Lockheed P-3 Orion is a land-based, long range, four-engined turboprop aircraft developed for anti-submarine warfare, for the U.S. Navy during the 1960s. Its design was based on Lockheed’s commercial airliner the L-188 Electra. A noticeable difference is the extended tail boom equipped with MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) to detect submarines. It also features an internal bomb bay below the front fuselage and under wing pylons, to allow for a variety of armament including the AGM-84 Harpoon and other missiles, rockets, mines, and gravity bombs. 


P-3 Orion

P-3C VP-45 flickr photo by Rob Schleiffert shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license 


The P-3 is still used today, 60 years after its introduction, in many different missions by countries all over the world. According to Lockheed Martin , they are used for multiple missions.

  • Anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
  • Peacekeeping and surveillance over land
  • Targeting strike points on the ground and relaying real-time video surveillance
  • Scouting ahead of ground convoys and warning of potential dangers
  • Protecting shipping lanes and detering pirates
  • Thwarting drug smuggling attempts
  • Preventing illegal immigration
  • Performing anti-terrorism missions


Take a look at Lockheed's P-30 Orion 50th Anniversary video, from 2012, with history and information about the enduring maritime patrol aircraft.


P 3 Orion Development

  P-3 Orion

 The first (aerodynamic) prototype of the Lockheed P3V Orion (after 1962 P-3) in flight in 1958. It clearly shows its origin from the Lockheed Electra airliner. USN - U.S. Navy Naval Aviation News January 1959 - Public Domain photo


Development of the P-3 began in August 1957, when the U.S. Navy asked for proposals for a replacement for the Lockheed P2V Neptune and the Martin P-5 Martin. They needed a more advanced aircraft for maritime patrol, especially for anti submarine warfare (ASW). By modifying their Electra, which was still in development, they would be able to save money and integrate more quickly. Lockheed was awarded a research and development contract in May 1958. The first prototype was YP3V-1/YP-3A (BuNo 148276), created from the third Electra airframe. Its first flight was in August 1958. The first production P-3, P3V-1, was introduced in April 1961. Deliveries began in August 1962. It was renamed the P-3 Orion in September 1962, when the U.S. military began their unified designation system in naming aircraft. 

The P-3 Orion has had several developments, including a conversion from analog to digital between the P-3B and P-3C variants. After civilian Electras were involved in fatal accidents in 1959 and 1960, the FAA investigated and found that two of the three crashes were due to weak engine mounts that could ultimately cause the wings to pull off the aircraft. Lockheed introduced the Lockheed Electra Achievement Program, which strengthened the engine mounts and wings. Because of the longevity of the aircraft’s service, Lockheed, as part of their Service Life Extension Program, continues to support it with efforts such as the Mid-Life Upgrade Program. 


P-3 Orions and the Cuban Missile Crisis


Just three months after receiving the first P-3 Orion, U.S. Navy Patrol Squadron 8 was deployed to Bermuda on October 23, 1962, in the midst of global intrigue. Aircrews from VP-8 and VP-44 began enforcing the U.S. embargo against Cuba, preventing the Soviet Union from bringing military supplies, including intermediate range ballistic missiles and missile launch support equipment, into Cuba.


P-3 Orion Cuban Missile Crisis

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3A-20-LO Orion (BuNo 150497) of Patrol Squadron VP-44 flies over the Metallurg Anosov and destroyer USS Barry (DD-933) during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By U.S. Navy - U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 2011.003.162.001 , Public Domain, Link

P-3 Orions patrolled the Atlantic Ocean to locate and track Soviet cargo ships. A VP-44 crew famously flew close surveillance over the Soviet freighter Anosov, which had refused to uncover the large objects attached to its deck and had turned back to return to the Soviet Union. The P-3 Orion crew verified that the these eight large oblong objects were indeed crated missiles.


What is the P-3 Mid Life Upgrade Program?


P3 Aerostar Photo by Louis DePaemelaere One Mile High Photography . Used with permission.


The P-3 Mid Life Upgrade Program (MLU) is a life extension kit which replaces the plane’s outer wings, center wing lower section, and horizontal stabilizer with new production components. This removes the current airframe flight restrictions, and gives the aircraft 15,000 additional flight hours. It replaces all fatigue-life-limiting structures with new enhanced design components as well as improved corrosion-resistant materials. MLU is a certified, cost effective solution that extends the P-3’s service life and allows it to be ready for decades to come. 

P-3 Aerostar


P3 Orion

 Photo by Louis DePaemelaere One Mile High Photography. Used with permission.


Seven aircraft (six P-3As and 1 P-3B) were converted to aerial fire fighters for Aero Union during the early 1990s. They were fitted with a 3,000 gallon retardant tank. Aero Union operated aerial firefighting aircraft, as contractors of the U.S. Forest Service, including the Aerostar. Aero Union was founded in 1960 and made custom firefighting systems, provided training crews and operated a number of different converted military aircraft in air firefighting. Their USFS contract was terminated in 2011 due to safety concerns, and their doors were shuttered permanently 2 weeks later. 


Lockheed Orion Photo by Louis DePaemelaere One Mile High Photography . Used with permission.


P-3A Aerostar Stats


P-3 Orion



  • Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin
  • Tail #: N920AU
  • Crew: 3
  • Wing Span: 99 Ft 8 In
  • Length: 116 Ft 8 In
  • Height: 33 Ft 8 In
  • Armament: 3,000 Gal Fire Retardant Tank


  • Range: 1,346 Nm
  • Cruise Speed: 330 Kts
  • Ceiling: 28,300 Ft
  • Empty Weight: 61,491 Lb
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 125,500 Lb
  • Rate Of Climb: 1,968 Ft/Min
  • Engine: 4x T56-A-10w Allison Turbo Props




N920AU Photo by Louis DePaemelaere One Mile High Photography . Used with permission.


N920AU, construction number 185-5039 (150513), was built in 1963 and delivered to the U.S. Navy. 150513 served with VP-68, a Patrol Squadron of the U.S. Navy Reserve. Established in November 1970 at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, and later the Naval Air Facility Washington D.C., the Black Hawks' mission was to "attain and maintain the highest possible personnel and material readiness for immediate employment in the event of war or national emergency and to perform Peacetime Contributory Support as an integral part of the total force." They operated five Lockheed P-3 Orions for training and operational missions in support of fleet operations in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean Seas, and the Gulf of Mexico. The squadron was disestablished in January 1997, after 26 years of service.

In 1979, this P-3, now named P-3.06, was delivered to the Spanish Air Force (Ejercito de Aire).  Read more about VP-68 history, and this story about 150513 on


"...In late 79 VP-68 was tasked to turn over BUNO: 150513 to the Spanish Navy. It had been our official "bounce bird" for quite a while, and was a Non-Difar A model, or "Iron Bomber" to some, so we trons were not keeping it ASW ready because all the gear had been superseded. ...They took old 150513 and their bird and launched back to Spain. About two days later a guy that had been on ramp watch came up to me and said, "Those Spanish guys sure worked late the other night, they came back after you secured and they were swapping gear from their bird to 513 all night long trying to troubleshoot the ASW problems." We'd been had..."


By 1990, according to, it was retired from Spanish military service and back in the States. It changed hands a few more times, including a stint as an instructional airframe at the State Technical College Aviation Maintenance School, Abilene Airport, TX.


Tanker 20 P-3 Aerostar


In 2001, it was bought by Aero Union Corporation, in Chino, California, registered as N920AU, and converted to a firefighting tanker. As “Tanker 20”, N920AU   battled fires until Aero Union’s doors were closed in 2011, then was broken up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Its fuselage landed at United Aeronautical Corp in 2013, where it remained for almost a decade. MotoArt acquired what remained of it in 2022. 

  Aero Union P-3

Photo by Louis DePaemelaere One Mile High Photography . Used with permission.


A P-3 Orion For MotoArt

MotoArt owner Dave Hall was ecstatic to find this P-3 in nearby Tucson, AZ. "We’ve been wanting to work with this P-3 since we discovered it at United Aero in Tucson, Arizon," says Hall.  "In the last twenty years with MotoArt, the P-3 Orion has been one of our most requested Tags.  We are honored to finally add it to our PlaneTag collection. "

Here are some photos of N920AU from the MotoArt team.


P 3 Orion


P-3 Orion Aerostar


Aerostar P-3


P3 Orion PlaneTags


Tanker 20 P3 Orion


MotoArt Team P3 Orion


These photos were taken at MotoArt Studios in Torrance, California, where PlaneTags are manufactured.


Orion PlaneTags


P3 Orion aircraft skin


P3 Orion fuselage skin


P3 Orion PlaneTags


Lockheed P3 Orion PlaneTags


Lockheed P-3 Orion PlaneTags


The newest PlaneTags from MotoArt promise to be a highlight of what has been a year full of fantastic releases. They will be released on the PlaneTags app and website this Thursday, December 15, 2022 at 12 noon Pacific Time. Sign up for email and SMS notifications, news and exclusives. Don't miss this release.

P-3A PlaneTags design


Lockheed PlaneTags

It almost goes without saying that our most popular Lockheed PlaneTags have been the First and Second editions of the SR-71 PlaneTags, which have completely sold out. We also introduced a Lockheed C-130, which has also sold out.

Check out the other Lockheed aircraft we have tagged in the past and get one for your collection before they are gone. As of this writing, these PlaneTags are still available. 



A special thank you to Louis DePaemelaere One Mile High Photography for generously allowing us to use his original photos of N920AU in Aero Union colors. The photos were taken in 2006 at  Grand Junction Walker Field, Colorado