24 Apr 2011

First upgraded Orion arrives home

8:12 am on 24 April 2011

The first of six New Zealand Air Force Orion maritime patrol aircraft to be upgraded has arrived back in New Zealand from the United States.

The Orion was greeted on its arrival at Whenuapai airbase on Saturday afternoon by fire trucks spraying a cascade of water and a welcoming party of Air Force officials and members of the crew's families.

During the upgrade of its reconnaissance, navigation and communications systems, all analogue instrumentation was replaced with digital systems.

Radar, cameras and infrared capabilities have all been upgraded, and the turboprops will now be able to perform surveillance operations over land, not just over water.

The Air Force says the surveillance improvements mean it can spot targets, like those lost at sea or illegal fishing boats, from a much greater height and over a longer distance, increasing the speed and effectiveness of searches.

The modifications were carried out in the US state of Texas and had been subject to a delay of about three years.

Air Force chief Air Vice Marshall Graham Lintott said the delay was due to the complexity of the equipment that had to be installed and to engine and structural problems with the aircraft.

The other five Orions in the fleet will undergo their upgrades at the Safe Air plant at Woodbourne in Blenheim over the next three years.

The total cost of overhauling the six aircraft is $373 million.