One of the longest-lived military airplanes in Hawaii — the P-3 Orion turboprop — is starting to fade away, with the Navy deciding its sub-hunting jet replacements could be more economically based in Washington state.Six to eight of the P-3Cs are assigned to each of three patrol squadrons — VP-4, VP-9 and VP-47 — at Kaneohe Bay.But when the VP-4 “Skinny Dragons,” with up to 340 personnel, deploy in the spring, the squadron that first flew P-3As out of Barbers Point Naval Air Station in 1966 won’t be coming back, the Navy said.They’ll head to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state for transformation to the P-8A Poseidon, a jet based on the Boeing 737 that can fly faster and longer on the maritime surveillance and sub-hunting missions that are still so important to the Navy, officials said.When the Navy wants to take a look at the controversial island-building that China’s been up to in the South China Sea, for example, it’s sent a P-8 to do it. Two of the jets were dispatched to search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 last year.
This is good news for the Oak Harbor/NAS Whidbey economy. And the P-8 program is coming along nicely, even if they aren’t buying as many aircraft as I’d like to see. I’m hoping the international sales will keep the line open a while, and allow the Navy to quietly buy a few handfuls in future years outside the current programmed buy.