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WP-3D Orion
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Lockheed WP-3D Orion
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Picture of Lockheed WP-3D Orion

Two of the world's premier research aircraft, the renowned NOAA WP-3D Orions, participate in a wide variety of national and international meteorological, oceanographic and environmental research programs in addition to their widely known use in hurricane research and reconnaissance. These versatile turboprop aircraft are equipped with an unprecedented variety of scientific instrumentation, radars and recording systems for both in-situ and remote sensing measurements of the atmosphere, the earth and its environment. Obtained as new aircraft from the Lockheed production line in the mid-70's, these robust and well maintained aircraft have led NOAA's continuing effort to monitor and study hurricanes and other severe storms, the quality of the atmosphere, the state of the ocean and its fish population, and climate trends.

With their world-wide operating capability, they have participated in numerous research experiments from the Indian Ocean, Australia and the Solomon Islands to Ireland, the North Sea and the Alps. On a national scope they have operated from the Arctic Ocean and Alaska through most regions of the U.S. and into the Caribbean. Hurricane and tropical storm research have taken place in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific. Estimated useful lifetime for these two research platforms is another 10 to 15 years.

Picture of the inside of a Lockheed WP-3D Orion


Type Engines: 4 Allison T56-14 Turbo Prop Engines
Each rated at 4600 Shaft Horse Power (SHP)
Crew: 2 Pilots, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Flight Director (meteorologist), 2 or 3 Engineering/Electronic specialists, Radio/Avionics specialist, and a up to 12 Scientist or Media personnel.
Max. Takeoff Weight: 135,000 lbs.
Ceiling: 27,000'
Rate of Climb: Up to 3000 FPM depending on aircraft gross weight and density altitude
Operational Airspeeds: 170 - 250 KIAS
Electrical: 4 Generators (3 are engine driven, 1 Auxiliary Power Unit)
each generator yields 120 volt, 3 phase, 400HZ power 90 KVA max power
Max. Gross Weight: 135,000 lbs max takeoff weight
114,000 lbs max landing (103,880 is normal)
Empty Weight: Approximately 73,000 lbs depending on scientific gear installed
Maximum zero Fuel weight: Approximately 77,000 lbs.
Useful Load: Approximately 62,000 lbs
Fuel Load: 58,000 lbs.
Type Fuel: JP4, JP5, JP8, JET A, JET A-1, JET B
Standard Fuel Burn: 4500 - 6000 lbs/hr depending on altitude and airspeed
Maximum Range and Duration: LOW ALTITUDE - 2500 NM OR 9.5 HRS
Dimensions (external): Wingspan = 99 ' 8"
Length = 116' 10"
Height to top of fin = 34' 3"
Top of fin to lower skin = 24' 4"
Additional Standard Equipment (Cockpit): Traffic and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)
Altitude Alert System

Picture of Lockheed WP-3D Orion

Traffic and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) An airborne traffic advisory system that assists the flight crew in visual acquisition of aircraft that may pose a collision threat.
Altitude Alert System: System that provides flight crew with visual and audio warnings about a variety of flight conditions regarding the altitude of the aircraft.
Radars: Rockwell Collins C-band nose radar
Lower fuselage C-band research radar – 360 deg. horizontal fan beam
Cloud Physics: PMS 2-dimensional and 1-dimensional precipitation and cloud particle probes
PMS Forward and Axially scattering particle probes
Aerosol sampling system
Radiation: Sea surface temperature radiometer
CO2 air temperature radiometer
Eppley solar and terrestrial pyranometer and pyrgeometer radiometers
Expendables: GPS dropwindsonde atmospheric profiling system
Airborne Expendable Bathythermographs (AXBT’s)
Miscellaneous: C-band and Ku-band scatterometers
Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer
Radome Flow Angle Sensors
External Wing Store Station Mounts
Dual Inertial and GPS Navigation Systems

Picture of Lockheed WP-3D Orion
View more WP-3D information

Drawing of Kermit the Frog: Sky Hopper
Drawing of Miss Piggy

Nose art from the WP-3Ds, N42RF and N43RF
Copyright © The Jim Henson Company

The WP-3D Orion aircraft are on standby or deployed for hurricane research and reconnaissance 120 days each year. Each aircraft averages between 90 and 120 days deployed around the globe for other research projects, while flying 300 to 400 hours every year. Remaining days are devoted to system integration and calibration, aircraft maintenance, and pilot proficiency training.

The NOAA P-3’s will be contributing to two large-scale research efforts in the coming year. The Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortices Experiment (BAMEX) and the South American Low Level Jet Experiment (SALLJEX) are extensive weather related projects which require the NOAA P-3s participation to collect airborne data.


The P-3 aircraft will participate in The Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortices (MCV’s) Experiment (BAMEX) late May to early July 2003. This experiment, led by NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, is a major field project to study the evolution of Bow Echoes and Mesoscale Convective vortices. These weather systems can have a profound effect on local weather by producing widespread heavy rainfall, and potentially flash flooding. Most of the knowledge on these systems comes from numerical simulations. Little is known about how the horizontal circulations form, how predictable such circumstances might be, and what determines their length scales.
Lockheed WP-3D Orion
Aircraft are required to gather nearly all of the scientific data due to the short lifecycles and small sizes (~50-500 km diameter) of bow-echo mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). The NOAA P-3 will work with a Navy P-3 carrying ELDORA, a sophisticated doppler radar, to fly the leading line convection of the bow-echo system in order to map the complete circulation near this line and rearward of the stratiform region. The NOAA P-3 will fly a staggered pattern to map the air motions up to 80 km to the rear of the line. The NOAA P-3, along with the Naval Research Laboratory P-3 aircraft, will provide 3-dimensional air motion and reflectivity observations over the domain of the precipitation region of the system, emphasizing the system-scale structure and evolution.

For additional information on BAMEX visit and


The South American low-level jet program is an internationally coordinated effort to contribute to the understanding of the role of this system in moisture and energy exchange between the tropics and subtropics. The exchange between these regions affects regional hydrology, climate and climate variability. Ultimately, scientists will use the data collected in this experiment to improve short and long term predictions. The field observation campaign (SALLJEX) portion of the program will take place November 2002- March 2003.

The NOAA P-3 aircraft is an essential part of the field program to collect high spatial resolution measurements. The main objective of the P-3 flights will be to provide a detailed representation of the structure and variability of the low-level jet east of the Andes. The P-3 will collect secondary data to assess the relationship between mesoscale convective complexes over northern Argentina or western Paraguay and the low-level jet, the structure of cold frontal surges near the eastern slopes of the Andes, and the mesoscale variability over the Altiplano. The P-3 will collect this data January-February 2003.

For additional information on SALLJEX visit


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