Naval Test Wing Pacific's Naval Weapons Test Squadrons at Point Mugu (NWTSPM) employs five NP-3D Orion aircraft for operations on the local Sea Range and for worldwide missile test support. Range missions include radar/visual safety surveillance, telemetry data collection and retransmission, Time, Space, Position Information (TSPI), high resolution optical collections and general Fleet support. The worldwide mission is broader, serving a large customer base which includes DoD constituents, foreign services, the Department of Energy (DoE) and more.
The five NP-3D airframes have been upgraded with Fleet compatible T56-A-14 Allison turboprop engines. They are capable of 12-hour range surveillance at altitudes from 200 to 28,000 feet with an airspeed of 180 to 340 knots.
The communications suite has recently been upgraded on all five aircraft to include dual UHF radios, dual HF, VHF, secure UHF SATCOMM and VHF-FM marine band radios for contacting surface vessels in or near hazard patterns. The NP-3Ds are also equipped with the APS-80 surface search radar with updated digital display units. This system has a range up to 178 NM depending on aircraft altitude. The navigation suite includes dual GPS and Inertial Navigation System (INS). The GPS data can be recorded or wired into other project equipment.
One of the NP-3D aircraft is fitted with Cast Glance, a stabilized photo-optical system. This system provides excellent quality, high-resolution photographic coverage of air-to-air, air-to-surface or surface-to-air test operations. Cast Glance is also used to support the Space Shuttle Program. The Cast Glance suite includes a 170mm focal length, gyro-stabilized imaging system capable of obtaining precision and/or high resolution video and still images as well as transmitting them to a ground-based control room from long standoff distances. This system has been used to support the Space Shuttle and various missile launches. It provides critical optical data during launch, stage separation and impact phases of flight. Streak photography capabilities provide excellent coverage of ballistic missile reentry profiles.
Cast Glance, allows the aircrew to take video and still images of the ground and pass them by way of a radio data link to commanders as events occur. All of this is accomplished from an altitude high enough to protect the aircraft from surface-to-air weapons threats. The Cast Glance system, and its counterpart electro-optical camera system Cluster Ranger, have significantly expanded the VP community's focus. The role of the P-3C in the fleet has shifted in recent years from a primarily maritime surveillance role to an increased focus on the overland reconnaissance mission. Once the aircrew is over the assigned target, the electro-optical (EO) camera team begins transmitting a real-time video image to remote receiver sites on the ground.
The NP-3D instrumented range aircraft, under the cognizance of the Naval Test Wing Pacific, are used in a variety of operational support scenarios. One of the NP-3D aircraft is fitted with Cast Glance, a stabilized photo-optical system. This system provides excellent quality, high-resolution photographic coverage of air-to-air, air-to-surface or surface-to-air test operations. Cast Glance is also used to support the Space Shuttle Program. Cast Glance is an aircraft mounted, gyro-stabilized, photographic, instrumentation system installed in NAWCWPNS NP-3D aircraft. The system can produce excellent quality, high resolution, large image size coverage of missile flights, and intercepts in air-to-air, air-to-surface and surface-to-air environments.
The name Cast Glance includes Cast Glance IIA and IIB. Cast Glance IIA has the prototype seven inch mirror and offers a 40-inch lense, with the capability of changing the focal length to values between 20 and 120 inches, as required, in flight. Film, video and low light level video photographic sensors are available for the system. Cast Glance IIB offers all the features of Cast Glance IIA but also has two wide angle ports available to install a variety of sensors. One of the NAWCWPNS NP-3Ds can accommodate two Cast Glance systems on one side of the aircraft to enable coverage of multiple events. Live video images from four different cameras can be transmitted back to land-based OCRs via L-band transmission (1817 MHz).
The key to the effective use of the Cast Glance photographic system lies in its flexibility. It is highly mobile and can operate at long standoff ranges due to its excellent stability and high quality lens system. The Cast Glance photographs events which cannot be photographed with normal surface-based equipment such as; at sea, at high altitude, or taking place over a large area requiring that the camera move with the subject. It can also photograph events where normal hand-held photography is not sufficient due to safety constraints, speed and altitude limitations or other limiting factors. For example, with its long focal length lenses, high speed cameras and low light level video capability, Cast Glance can photograph objects moving at a speed in excess of 17,000 miles per hour at an altitude of over 200,000 feet. Resolution better than 13 microradians has been achieved. This is better than one foot in 15 miles.
Three of the five NP-3D aircraft have been retrofitted with the unique billboard phased array telemetry antenna systems. Each of these systems can track up to five independent, geographically separated, S-Band telemetry sources, (including Harpoon, SLAM, Standard and Tomahawk missiles), provide recorded data collection in the S-band, and can retransmit six L-band frequencies to ground stations for real-time analysis. Two of these airframes have advanced capabilities of tracking five independent targets (extended S-band) with dual polarity and a gain in excess of 30 dB.
An advanced Command Transmitter System (CTS) for operational control of missiles during test and training operations, is available on the NP-3D aircraft. Currently being operationally tested, this system includes high power command destruct transmitters, state-of-the-art missile status/position displays and Silicon Graphics Indigo computer systems. The system will enable the Range User to conduct short-to-medium range and theater ballistic missile tests independent of ground support. This capability has a number of advantages. It will enable discreet testing of missile systems in remote locations. It will also speed up relocation and setup and will be lower in cost than maintaining permanent ground tracking facilities and support ships.
Helix telemetry antennas can be fitted to this aircraft to provide additional telemetry coverage. Harpoon weapons systems equipment is available including a full avionics and missile launcher. The retransmission of UHF frequencies is made possible with the AUTOCAT system.
The Naval Research Laboratory Flight Support Division maintains a fleet of 6 uniquely configured, research modified NP-3D "Orion" aircraft. Loosely based on the highly successful P-3 "Orion" all weather, Anti-submarine warfare aircraft, these research variants have been equipped to maximize their utility as airborne test platforms. All tactical equipment and sensors has been removed from the aircraft, improving handeling characteristics as well as airplane performance in all flight regimes. Special navigational eqipment have also been added or relocated to increase pilot / aircrew coordination. The aircraft can be broken down into two general catagories, Generic and Specific.
Some of NRL customers have special needs. To meet their requirements, they have specifically modified aircraft which are placed into NRL's custody. As a result of these modifications the aircraft are tailored to specific types of projects. These aircraft are assigned a priority user in this case. That user will have priority scheduling for those assets over regularly scheduled projects. 153442 - Researcher 442 is a heavyweight P-3B is configured with the E-2C rotating antenna (rotodome), a Hawkeye 2000 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system and an Airborne Engagement Capability (CEC) suite to support the Navy's future AEW/CEC programs. In addition to the very distinctive rotodome, another distinguishing aircraft exterior feature is the CEC End Fire Array (EFA) antenna. This 54-inch antenna with the associated fairing presents a noticeable bulge below the entrance hatch located on the aft aircraft belly. In addition to the AEW/CEC installation, there are floor and ceiling rails installed to accommodate 6 additional operator/equipment consoles in the aft crew compartment, a free-fall sonobuoy chute, and space for mounting of up to 700 lbs. of equipment in the forward equipment area. There is external wing wiring installed, including fiber optics, to support 6 external electronic pods. The nose radome area has been fitted for a modified IRDS (Infrared Radiation Detection System) turret that can be lowered and raised to support Electro-Optic projects. 158227 is one of the first P-3Cs to produced. NRL has specially configured this aircraft to support the Oceanographic survey of the Naval Oceanography Office. 160764 is a "fleet" P-3C, it has the Update II as well as a pre-IOC version of the USG-1 CEC Common Equipment Suite. This plane primarily supports the testing requirements for the NAVSEA CEC project. This plane is expected transfered back to the fleet for update to a more current tactical vewrsion, the CEC equipment will be removed.
The generic aircraft take a "Utility Knife" approach to capabilities. They all have been equipped with similar equipment, posses similar capabilities, and are virtually interchangeable. The selection of which aircraft is best for a particular project for these aircraft usually comes down to which aircraft is available. Each aircraft has been equipped with a floor mounted "track" system which allows for rapid installation of project equipment "racks" as well as the flexibility to reposition the scientific equipment as necessary to keep the aircraft within the structural restrictions for weight and balance. Additionally an overhead rack system has been encorporated to allow the tops of project racks to be secured. These modifications allow for the quick installation of projects, adherence to the rigid structural strength requirements for airborne equipment, and increased measure of flight safety in all regimes, including smooth weather, turbulence and steep angle of bank turns. Several of the aircraft have had their "Bomb Bay" doors and hardware removed and a "Bomb Bay Pallet" installed. Along with this modification, a "data feed through" system is installed. This standardized pallet system allows customers to install and test equipment in a laboratory environment prior to final install on the aircraft.
The US Naval Test Pilot School maintains and operates 50 aircraft of 13 types. The variety of aircraft, from the X-26 glider to the TF/A-18, and from the TH-6 to a variable stability Seahawk helicopter, exposes the students to a broad spectrum of performance, flying qualities, and weapon system capabilities. An NP-3D, with an F-16 radar, a Forward Looking InfraRed system, and other systems enhancements are available for systems training.
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