Lockheed WP-3D Orion

The Lockheed WP-3D Orion is a highly modified P-3 Orion used by the Aircraft Operations Center division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Only two of these aircraft exist, each incorporating numerous features for the role of collecting weather information. During hurricane season, the WP-3Ds are deployed for duty as hurricane hunters. The aircraft also support research on other topics, such as Arctic ice coverage, air chemistry studies, and ocean water temperature and current analysis.[1]

WP-3D Orion
NOAA WP-3D Orions.jpg
NOAA Lockheed WP-3D Hurricane Hunters
Role Weather reconnaissance aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
First flight 1975
Introduction 1976
Primary user National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Number built 2
Developed from Lockheed P-3 Orion
Lockheed WP-3D Orion in flight (10 September 2006)
Lockheed WP-3D Orion in flight


The WP-3Ds are equipped with three weather radars, C band radars in the nose and on the lower fuselage, and an X-band radar in the aircraft's tail. They are also equipped with the ability to deploy dropsondes into storm systems, and have onboard temperature sensors, and other meteorological equipment. While the aircraft are not specially strengthened for flying into hurricanes, their decks were reinforced to withstand the additional equipment load.

It has a barber-pole sampler (named for its red-and-white stripes) that protrude from the aircraft's front, a tail Doppler weather radar, and other unique-looking instruments hanging from the wing.[2]

Operational historyEdit

NOAA currently operates two WP-3Ds nicknamed Miss Piggy and Kermit, and their logos feature the characters created by Jim Henson Productions. NOAA's other hurricane hunting aircraft, the Gulfstream IV-SP, is named Gonzo; they complement the fleet of WC-130 aircraft operated by the United States Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. As of 2014, the two Orions had each flown more than 10,000 hours and flown into more than 80 hurricanes.[1]

Between 2015 and 2017, the aircraft received major overhauls, costing a total of $35 million. This work was performed by the United States Navy's Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville Florida. The work included new wings and engines and upgraded radars and avionics. NOAA anticipates that these changes will allow the aircraft to fly until between 2032 and 2037.[1]

Specifications (WP-3D Orion)Edit

Data from Riders of the storms[3]

General characteristics

  • Crew: Up to 22 (2 pilots, flight engineer, navigator, flight director, 2–3 engineering/electronics specialists, radio/avionics specialist and up to 12 scientists)
  • Length: 116 ft 10 in (35.61 m)
  • Wingspan: 99 ft 8 in (30.38 m)
  • Height: 34 ft 3 in (10.44 m)
  • Wing area: 1,300.0 sq ft (120.77 m2) [4]
  • Aspect ratio: 7.5:1[4]
  • Empty weight: 73,000 lb (33,112 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 135,000 lb (61,235 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Allison T56-14 turboprops, 4,500 shp (3,400 kW) each


  • Cruise speed: 250 kn (290 mph, 460 km/h)
  • Range: 3,800 nmi (4,400 mi, 7,000 km) at high altitude; 2,500 nmi (2,900 mi; 4,600 km) at low altitude
  • Endurance: 11.5 hours at high altitude; 9.5 hours at low altitude
  • Service ceiling: 27,000 ft (8,200 m)
  • Rate of climb: 3,000 ft/min (15 m/s)

See alsoEdit

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ a b c Altman, Howard (August 14, 2014). "MacDill hurricane hunters to get $35 million overhaul". The Tampa Tribune. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
  2. ^ Krohn, Dennis (March 2008). "USGS Extreme Storm Team Receives Christmas Week Tour of NOAA Aircraft Facility". Retrieved December 14, 2010.
  3. ^ Broadbent 2019, p. 93
  4. ^ a b Michell 1994, p. 334
  • Broadbent, Mark (January 2019). "Riders of the storms". Air International. Vol. 96 no. 1. p. 93. ISSN 0306-5634.
  • Michell, Simon, ed. (1994). Jane's Civil and Military Aircraft Upgrades 1994–95. Coulsdon, UK: Jane's Information Group. ISBN 0-7106-1208-7.

External linksEdit