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P2V (P-2) Neptune

The P-2V operated as a land-based patrol bomber in the 1940s by the U.S. Navy and was the predecessor to the P3. The P-2V is known for its versatility and long flight range of up to 2,000 miles. The Lockheed Neptune served as a search and reconnaissance patrol plane, its presence heralding the ultimate demise of the traditional flying boat in that role. Powered by two Wright R-3350 engines, the Neptune had a remarkable range and carried a wide variety of ordnance.

By now most VP personnel in fleet squadrons hardly remember that there were ever anything but P-3s in Navy VP squadrons. However, for many years their predecessors never knew that there were any land-based patrol planes other than P2V/P-2 Neptunes. The Neptune enjoys the distinction of being the only designed-for-the-purpose, landbased patrol plane to see wide, general Navy service. All others to see general Navy service, including today's P-3s, were derived from other types designed for other purposes. Both the P2V's predecessors, the PVs and successors (today's P-3s), were derived from commercial transport designs.

The Neptune traces its origins to Lockheed/Vega design studies starting in 1941 when the Navy first acquired land-based patrol aircraft. While types modified from other models served WW II needs, in 1944, two XP2V-ls were ordered, along with 15 production-1 models. These were designed to overcome the many problems of the redesigned types,providing ample space for crew and equipment, and adequate range in a straight-forward, twin-engine design. First flight of the initial XP2V-1 occurred on 12 May 1945. For the following 17 years, Lockheed's flight line was never without new P2V/P-2 aircraft.

Powered by two 2,300-hp Wright R-3350 engines, and featuring nose, dorsal and tail turrets, the XP2V-1 featured clean lines that were to continue throughout the P2V series, even though the aircraft was to grow all manner of electronic and other bumps, and the armament changed regularly.

The most famous Neptune was the Truculent Turtle, the third P2V-1, which set a world's distance record on 29 September to 1 October 1947, flying 11,236 miles from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio. Following initial trials, the first P2Vs went into service with VP-ML-2 in 1947. The -1s were followed by -2s with longer noses and no nose turrets, and subsequent -3s with improved engines. Both these models had variants, initiating a practice that continued throughout the P2V/P-2 series, which continues in the P-3s today. A special ASW (-2S) and ski-equipped (-2N) P2V-2s were followed by carrier, command transport and radar search (-3C, -3Z and -3W) versions of the P2V-3. While takeoffs from carriers were performed, using JATO assist, the Neptune never landed aboard a carrier.

After the initial aircraft, the -4s introduced the turbo-compound R-3350 engine, had APS-20 radar as a standard feature, and were fitted with tip tanks. P2V-5s were the first Neptunes to serve with foreign countries, and were followed later by other models. P2V-6s featured more flexible armament provisions and reduced-capability radar. With the -7, the P2V reached its ultimate design. Westinghouse J-34s in wing pods added needed power, a MAD boom replaced the tail turret, nose armament was eliminated, and the pilot's cabin redesigned. Many of these features were retrofitted on earlier -5 and -6 aircraft as the Neptunes underwent successive modifications for fleet use and for special duties. This included some used by the Air Force as RB-69As.

By the time the last of 1,036 Neptunes were delivered in 1962, the designation of the P2V-7s had changed to SP-2H, and all guns were deleted. Subsequent special versions for Southeast Asia added OP-2E and AP-2H to the list of P-2 modifications. As the P-3s filled out the fleet squadrons, the P-2s continued to fill reserve and support mission roles. By the mid-Seventies the P-2s were being rapidly phased out.

RB-69A

The US Air Force acquired (on loan) seven US Navy P2V-7U 'Neptune' maritime patrol aircraft for conversion as reconnaissance bombers. These aircraft were redesignated RB-69A as USAF aircraft. The electronic equipment of the basic P2V-7U was modified for USAF use in reconnaissance and ECM training missions. Externally, the most obvious difference was an additional radome mounted on the Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) tail boom (last 'bump' at the lower aft section of the plane pictured above). As more capable electronic reconnaissance aircraft became available, the RB-69As were returned to the US Navy. The Navy modified them back to maritime patrol standards and redesignated them as SP-2H.

Waterbomber / Airtanker

It began to be used as an airtanker by private companies in the 1970s. Because the P-2Vs were decommissioned for military service before the US Navy developed structural analysis and fatigue life limit programs, a service life limit was never established.

During routine maintenance inspections on Lockheed P2V-7 models in 2002, the FAA found cracks at the upper forward pylon casting of the Jet engine pylons. If left uncorrected, this condition could result in the structural failure of the engine pylon and the subsequent loss of the engine. Loss of the engine during fire-fighting operations could be catastrophic. The FAA recommended that owners and operators of the Lockheed P2V-7 airplanes perform visual inspection of the jet engine pylons for cracking. If cracking is found, FAA highly recommended that the jet engine pylon be removed and replaced with a pylon without cracks.

Neptune Aviation required the assets of Black Hills Aviation in 1993. As of 2004 they owned 16 Lockheed Neptune P2V-5's and 7's. Eight of those were operational, eight of those were in mothballs at that time. Neptune had two fully functional maintenance bases, one in Missoula, Montana, one in Alma Gordo, New Mexico. And both of those repair stations are fully certified repair stations. All aircraft were maintained using the full US Navy phased inspection program.

The equipment operated under a restricted type certificate, under FAR part 121, section 21-25. They're specialized fire-fighting aircraft. Neptune used aircraft tested by the U.S. Forest Service as fire fighting equipment, and we're certified as such, so they were actually been certified and tested and evaluated as fire fighting aircraft. Most of these airframes had between 4,000 and 8,000 hours on them, and they were built in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. Any of the aircraft that go from mothball status to full time status go through a two to three year depot level maintenance inspection program.

They're basically all re-wired, re-plumbed, completely evaluated, stripped, things that need to be replaced are replaced. The cost is between $600,000 and $1.2 million to retrofit one of the mothballed P2Vs in our fleet to go to active status. Total cost was $1.4 million to get it operational. It's a P2V-5, that does not include the tank.

In 2002 a P2V aircraft owned by Neptune Aviation, was found to have a 1-foot long crack in the lower skin of the right wing earlier this week. This triggered a round of inspections of the P-2v/SP2H fleet and sufficient indications were found by the operators to initiate a more in depth inspection program. After contact with the P-2V Airtanker operators, a number of other aircraft were found to have cracks in the under surface of the center section of the wing, they were not available for operations until repairs were made.

On 12 August 2004 - The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture today announced they will return two P-2V aircraft to firefighting service on a limited basis. Both aircraft would be outfitted with structural health monitoring devices to gather information on the stresses that occur to airtankers in the fire environment, which will help determine vital safety information for the remaining P-2V fleet.

The remaining 10 aircraft in the P-2V fleet were not returned to service in 2004 because unlike the P-3 aircraft, the operational service life, which is expressed in how many hours an aircraft can be safely flown according to the original equipment manufacturer, had not yet been established. However, USDA contracted with Lockheed-Martin, the original manufacturer of the P-2Vs, to obtain historical data on the aircraft to help make that determination.



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