01 Februari 2011
RNZAF P3K Orion (photo : Chris Nielsen)
WELLINGTON - The final phase of acceptance testing on a New Zealand Air Force upgraded P-3K Orion prototype has begun at L-3 Communications Integrated Systems' facility in Texas.
The flight integration phase has taken considerably longer than planned, but completion is now within sight, Ministry of Defence project managers here said.
Originally, flight-testing for the 352 million New Zealand dollar ($272.4 million) project was to be completed within approximately six months. However, a series of unexpected problems stretched this phase to 18 months.
Among these concerns were the prototype aircraft's stall performance and anomalies with its digital indicated airspeed display during take-offs.
Flight-testing also has been hampered by problems unrelated to the systems upgrade.
The prototype P-3K2 Orion was unable to fly for six months in 2010 following the discovery of loose fasteners in the wing root area.
Separate issues, including bird strikes, have required three engine changes, the most recent in December.
Stall performance investigations have required considerable flight-testing, including examination of airflow patterns and installing instruments to record flight data. Extensive data analysis has been required and a ground test mock-up has been built to replicate and test the aircraft's airspeed indicating system.
The tests and analysis have resulted in new software being written for the aircraft's air data computer, and this software will be flight-tested in the coming weeks.
The upgraded systems in the prototype Orion's cockpit have now been extensively tested during approximately 240 hours of flight. The flight management system, Honeywell traffic collision avoidance system, integrated Rockwell Collins navigation and improved communications equipment are coupled with a much improved tactical display from the data management system and weather and air-to-air detection capabilities from the Elta EL/M 2022A(V)3 radar.
After some early teething problems, the data management system is now proving to be stable and the new sensors are demonstrating excellent detection performance, Defense News was told.
Once the contractor is satisfied, the final acceptance testing of the aircraft and associated ground-based support equipment will commence. The prototype P-3K2 then will return to New Zealand to begin Air Force operational testing and evaluation.
The remainder of the Orion fleet is to be upgraded by Safe Air in Blenheim. Installation of all the systems on the second aircraft, which has been at Blenheim since August 2009, has largely been completed, and ground testing and flight-testing of this aircraft will follow from the final prototype tests in Texas.
The latest timetable shows the entire fleet of six P-3K2 aircraft back in service by 2013 - three years later than originally scheduled.
Under the other major Air Force fleet renovation, five C-130H Hercules transports are undergoing a 226 million New Zealand dollar life extension program with two aircraft already completed and undergoing operational testing and evaluation in New Zealand since late last year.
Work will begin in February to upgrade the remaining three C-130s.
This work was originally expected to be done by Safe Air, but the company withdrew from the contract after unexpectedly long delays led to many staff being made redundant.
Under revised arrangements, a Ministry of Defence team will now handle day-to-day management of the C-130 upgrade.
This team will manage work undertaken by L-3 Systems and Safe Air, which will continue to provide specialist services, together with the Aviation Labour Group, a Christchurch, New Zealand-based company, possibly supported by other specialist providers, the Ministry of Defence said.
The revised arrangements keeps the life extension work in Blenheim, where the activity can be closely managed by the Ministry of Defence team. The C-130 work includes the refurbishment of the aircrafts' center wings, refurbishment or replacement of other structural components, a major rewiring, and replacement of avionics systems, flight management, autopilot and navigation and communication suites.