P2V (P-2) Neptune
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.
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