ORION COLOURS & MARKINGS

See one AP-3C Orion - seen 'em all

 

THE GREY AND WHITE LOUD AND PROUD YEARS

 
 
 

When the P-3B Orions were first delivered to the RAAF in 1968, they were painted in a similar fashion to the Neptunes that they replaced. The Orions were predominantly Gloss Light Gull Grey with the upper part of the fuselage painted Gloss Insignia White for solar reflection. Serial numbers were black and displayed in the usual manner on the rear fuselage. The last two digits of the serial number were carried above both windscreens. On the port side only, the Australian flag was carried under the cockpit window alongside the squadron crest. While at Moffett Field, an early form of the 11 Squadron emblem in the form of a red diamond was added to the fin, reportedly by RAAF crews using spray cans! After arrival in Australia, the last two digits of the serial were added to the forward fuselage in large characters under the cockpit. On the port side, the first digit appeared below the Australian flag and the second digit appeared below the squadron crest. The squadron emblem on the fin was soon replaced by the more familiar white albatross on a red, white and blue band. The P-3Bs retained this livery for the duration of their RAAF service.

 

 

P-3B A9-291 with the early 11 SQN emblem on the fin and before the application of the large 91 on the forward fuselage.

(All images on this page are linked to larger versions)

 

When the first batch of P-3Cs for No 10 Squadron entered service in 1978, they wore the same colours as the P-3Bs and their serial numbers were carried in the same style and locations. When the second batch of P-3Cs arrived for No 11 Squadron in 1985, it became apparent that the use of the "last two" would result in duplications across the fleet so the serials on the forward fuselage and above the windscreens were presented with all three digits.

 

 

THE ORIGINAL SCHEME


Light Gull Grey
FS16440
ACACA4
Overall
Insignia White
FS17875
EDF2F8
Upper half of fuselage

 

Shades shown above are HEX approximations.
First digit of FS spec indicates type of finish:
1 = Gloss
2 = Semi-Gloss
3 = Matt

 

 

P-3C A9-759 from the first batch before the application of squadron markings on the tail.

 


P-3C A9-760 with the 10 SQN chimera emblem on the fin and rudder.

 


P-3C A9-657 with the 11 SQN albatross emblem on the fin and rudder.

 

I SEE RED!

When the P-3Bs and P-3Cs were delivered, the upper surfaces of the flaps were painted bright red to provide a simple visual indication if the flaps were not fully retracted. This feature was retained until the introduction of the final overall grey scheme when the flaps were painted the same shade of grey as the rest of the airframe. The photo shows A9-757 wearing the interim low visibility scheme.

 

 

THE GREY AND WHITE LOW VISIBILITY YEARS

 
 
 

Then it all changed!

By late 1989, the Orions were appearing with their markings toned-down. The fin flashes, Australian flag and colourful squadron markings were painted out and roundels were applied in darker shades of grey. Serials were removed from the fin, forward fuselage and windscreen locations although in some instances the full serial was retained on the rear fuselage. Even the red and white propeller tip markings were deleted in favour of black. During 1989, several aircraft appear to have been completely repainted grey with a white top and with all markings including the rear fuselage serial omitted. It would appear therefore that this interim scheme existed in two phases; (a) the quick over-paint method and (b) the complete repaint.

This change may have been inspired by a July 1986 directive from the Naval Air Systems Command that the United States Navy should take the following actions to adopt a generic paint scheme for all P-3 Orions: (Source: 2)

1. Eliminate all markings including Bureau Numbers from the vertical stabilizer.
2. Eliminate unit aircraft numbers from the aircraft nose.
3. Eliminate any other squadron unique emblems/markings.
4. Add an aircraft number to the inner surface of nose wheel door.

 

 

P-3C A9-664 in August 1990 in the interim scheme with markings painted out and with low visibility roundels but retaining the white top. This aircraft retains the full serial on the rear fuselage.

 

 

P-3C A9-657 in another variation of the transition to low visibility markings with the full serial on the rear fuselage, red, white and blue roundels and the 11 Squadron emblem on the tail. This aircraft appears to have been completely repainted.

 

THE OVERALL GREY ANONYMOUS YEARS

 
 
 

In 1991, the Defence Signals Directorate began developing a specification for two P-3C Orions to be converted to an electronic intelligence gathering role. This program was known as Project Peacemate or Project Air 5384. In 1994, Phase 2 began with the modification of the two aircraft which were ultimately certificated in 1997. These aircraft are believed to be A9-657 and A9-660 which are discernible by the lack of sonobuoy tube apertures on the underside of the rear fuselage.

With the aim of further enhancing the Orion's camouflage by eliminating the solar reflecting white top, a new Near Infrared Reflecting and Low Visibility Paint was developed by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) Materials Research Laborotory. This paint incorporated solar reflecting pigments and for testing purposes it was formulated in three shades of grey which were applied to A9-665 as follows:

 

THE EXPERIMENTAL SCHEME

Mid Grey
FS35237
67757E
Top of fuselage, wings and horizontal tail surfaces.
  Demarcation - Masked straight line
Light Grey
FS36375
9598A1
Fuselage sides and vertical tail surfaces.
  Demarcation - Overspray
Pale Grey
FS36495
C6C5CA
Undersides.

(Source: 1)

Colour names are as used in Source 1.
Shades shown above are HEX approximations.
First digit of FS spec indicates type of finish:
1 = Gloss
2 = Semi-Gloss
3 = Matt

 

 

A9-665 in the experimental three tone grey scheme.


This scheme had been tested previously on Dakota A65-78 using conventionally pigmented coatings but the tests were abandoned because of excessive cabin temperatures.

On 13 February 1992, two Orions were parked together at Edinburgh and instrumented to evaluate the new scheme which was known as Solar Heat Reflecting - Low Visibility Paint Scheme (SHF-LVPS). A9-665 in the new scheme was compared with A9-659 in the current grey and white scheme which, by this time, had adopted low visibility markings. The tests concluded that:

"The magnitude of the operational temperature increase under the most severe conditions of low altitude in a hot/humid environment is calculated to be 0.30C in the cabin and 1.30C at the flight stations. Under less severe conditions, temperatures in the cabin and the flight station will be controlled to current levels by the ECS."

It was also concluded that the effectiveness of the camouflage could be improved by eliminating the masked demarcation between the mid and light shades.

As a result of the tests, in April 1993, a second Orion (unidentified) was painted overall Light Grey FS36375 with markings in Pale Grey FS36495 (i.e. lighter than the overall shade). It seems that this scheme is close to what was eventually adopted across the fleet although ultimately the markings were darker than the overall shade.

A similar overall grey scheme applied to USN Orions and commonly known as Tactical Paint, is said to have radar absorption properties but it is not known if the RAAF paint has similar capabilities.

With only two of the surviving nineteen P-3Cs having the ELINT capability, it is surmised that it was deemed tactically advantageous for their presence to be disguised. The apparent solution was to make all nineteen Orions look the same and ultimately all aircraft were painted overall semi-gloss (also described as satin finish) Light Ghost Grey (FS26375) with the roundels and other markings presented in the darker shade of semi-gloss Grey Blue (FS25237). Wheel wells, undercarriage legs, wheels and flight control recesses were painted in gloss Insignia White (FS17875). This new livery began to appear sometime around late 1995. To complete the ruse, external serial numbers were effectively made invisible from "spotting" distances. Squadron markings were retained but these were also in Grey Blue such that they were barely visible. By this time squadron markings were largely notional as all the Orions were pooled under No 92 Wing at RAAF Edinburgh.

 

THE FINAL SCHEME


Light Ghost Grey
FS26375
9598A1
Overall
Grey Blue
FS25237
67757E
Contrasting markings
Insignia White
FS17875
EDF2F8
Wheel wells, u/c legs, wheels and flight control recesses

 

Shades shown above are HEX approximations.
First digit of FS spec indicates type of finish:
1 = Gloss
2 = Semi-Gloss
3 = Matt



From July 2002 onwards, seventeen P-3Cs were given a major systems upgrade after which they became known as the AP-3C (A = Australia). The prototype (A9-760) was converted in the United States between October 1997 and July 2002. (A9-754 was earlier written-off and A9-663 was not converted). One noticeable feature of this update was the elimination of the ALQ-78 ESM (Electronic Support Measures) pod which had been mounted on a pylon under the wing inboard of the #2 engine. The final conversion was completed in December 2004. Probably by this time, all Orions had been repainted in the overall grey scheme.

While the removal of external markings achieved the goal of making all the Orions look the same, it wasn't much help to ground crews who needed to tell one aeroplane from another when there were multiple Orions on the apron. Clearly it would not do to load an aeroplane with depth charges when the mission required droppable life rafts and vice versa! Accordingly, the Orions were identified on the ground in several ways:

Serial numbers were presented in grey or black on the white inner face of the nose landing gear doors. Photographs suggest that the 10 Squadron aircraft (700 series serials) showed the last two digits of the serial number while 11 Squadron aircraft (600 series serials) showed the last three. Ultimately however, both squadrons showed all three digits. Because the inside of the door has a contoured surface, these numbers are sometimes difficult to read (and probably even more difficult to apply!). As another means of identification, the last three digits of the serial number were presented in black on a dayglo orange "Remove Before Flight" sleeve which was placed over the port nose landing gear door while the aircraft was on the ground..

 

 

From this distance the barely visible orange sleeve on the NLG door is the only means of identifying A9-664. This picture shows to advantage the semi-gloss satin finish.

 

 

This image of A9-664 shows the two locations on the NLG doors.

 


This image of A9-659 shows the location of the last three digits of the serial number inside the NLG doors. In this case the numbers appear to be in black.

 

For the benefit of personnel boarding the aircraft, the full serial was presented aft of the main cabin door in very small dark grey characters, mostly in a horizontal format but in some instances the serial was presented vertically.

 


This image of A9-664 shows the location of the serial number aft of the cabin door.

 


This image of A9-661 shows the vertical presentation of the serial number aft of the cabin door.

 

Undoubtedly the serial number would have been displayed in numerous locations inside the aircraft but one known location is a placard on the captain's instrument panel. Curiously, these placards displayed the serial number with a leading zero e.g. A09-757 as seen in the following image. These placards also carried the aircraft's SELCAL code (i.e. Selective Calling - a means of calling an individual aircraft).

 


This image shows the instrument panel placard on A9-757.

 

 

The low visibility 10 Sqn chimera on the tail of A9-756.

 

 

 
Having gone to all this trouble to de-identify the Orions, it complicated matters for crews who wished to observe the time honoured tradition of naming their aircraft. This was particularly so when Orions were deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations in 2003. Evidently the crews were allowed some latitude as colourful nose art began to appear on the Orions. Perhaps it had been agreed that this was permissible in theatre but still there were bizarre methods of maintaining the subterfuge while giving aeroplanes individual names. Several of the Orions were given female names (e.g. Hollie, Brooke, Nicky etc) although it is not known if there was an underlying theme or if the names were chosen randomly. Certainly the crews took it very seriously as the aeroplanes were formally Christened by the Task Group Padre! For these naming ceremonies, the aircraft carried their individual names on a removable sleeve or banner which was placed on one of the nose landing gear doors. It is not known if the aircraft were permanently branded although the photograph above indicates that the instrument panel of A9-757 was marked with the name Tina.

At other times prior to the conflict in the MEAO, RAAF Orions routinely carried nose art and tail art to mark various anniversaries as well as the annual Fincastle competitions. The following table attempts to record Orion names and artwork although it does not pretend to be comprehensive. Additions and corrections will be most welcome.

With the Orions now in the twilight of their career, and with delays to the Gulfstream G550 project, it is speculated that the two ELINT Orions may be required to soldier on after all the other Orions have been retired. Ironically, all of the preceding subterfuge would then come down to a requirement to hide two aeroplanes in a fleet of two!
 

 

Tail Art on AP-3C A9-664

 

AP-3C ORION NAMES AND ARTWORK
SERIAL
NAME
REMARKS
A9-751
Noted in MEAO with "That's Gold" nose art.
In 2014 carried nose art to mark the 75th anniversary of 10 SQN and 11SQN.
A9-752
A9-753
A9-754
A9-755
LADY KINGSLAND In JUN10 carried Felix nose art with caption "On Station Since 1939".
Name LADY KINGSLAND on NLG door sleeve for naming ceremony. (Lady Kingsland was wife of wartime CO)
A9-756
In 1985 carried a rainbow zap on the dorsal fin applied by Patrol Wing 2 at Barbers Point, Hawaii during Exercise SILENT PEARL.
In 1996 carried RAAF 75th anniversary nose art.
In 1997 carried Fincastle nose art.
In 2009 carried tail art to mark the 70th anniversary of 10 SQN.
In 2014 carried nose art to mark the 75th anniversary of 10 SQN and 11SQN.
A9-757
TINA In 1999 carried tail art on blue tail for 60th anniversary of 10 SQN.
In 2008 carried Fincastle nose art.
In APR08 name "Tina" was handwritten on instrument panel near callsign placard.
A9-758
A9-759
In 1985 carried a rainbow zap on the dorsal fin applied by Patrol Wing 2 at Barbers Point, Hawaii during Exercise SILENT PEARL.
In 2002 carried AP-3C titles.
In AUG11 carried nose art "20,000 Operational Hours"
A9-760
BROOKE In 1984 carried 492 SQN tail markings.
In 1996 carried RAAF 75th anniversary nose art.
In 2002 carried AP-3C titles.
Name BROOKE on NLG sleeve for naming ceremony.
A9-656
HOLLIE (MAR08)
MIRANDA (APR09)
PATIENCE (2009)
In 2002 carried AP-3C titles.
In MAR08 carried nose art of Ten and Ace of spades with name HOLLIE incorporated in artwork. See similar nose art on NICKY . Name HOLLIE on NLG door sleeve for naming ceremony.
In JUN08 carried nose art of Ten and Ace of spades with caption "That's How We Roll Them".
In APR09 carried nose art of a bikini clad lady (Patience?) holding a telescope.
A9-657
In 1985 carried "First Palmdale Built P-3C" on upper fuselage stbd only.
In 1997 carried Fincastle nose art.
A9-658
A9-659
In 1994 carried Fincastle nose art.
In 1996 carried RAAF 75th anniversary nose art.
In 2002 carried AP-3C titles.
A9-660
 
A9-661
NICKY In 1988 carried Australian Bicentennial logo on tail for Fincastle competition.
In MAR08 carried nose art of Ten & Ace of spades with the name NICKY incorporated in the artwork. (Source: Air Force News 09JUL09) Name NICKY on NLG door sleeve for naming ceremony.
A9-662
In SEP09 carried tail art commemorating 11Sqn 1939/2009.
In 2015 carried tail art of black & white checked bands on a green tail with Felix character (same as 664)
A9-663
A9-664
In NOV08 carried nose art of Sonic the Hedgehog with caption "That's How We Roll!"
In OCT14 carried nose art for 10/11 Sqn 75th Anniversary.
In 2015 carried tail art of black & white checked bands on a green tail with Felix character (same as 662)
A9-665
UNASSIGNED NAMES / NOSE ART
  HOLLYWOOD Name on NLG door sleeve for naming ceremony.
MOLLY Name on NLG door sleeve for naming ceremony.
  STEPHANIE Name on NLG door sleeve for naming ceremony. Named after Australian Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice. (Source: Air Force News 13NOV08)
LAURA "That's How We Roll"
JENNIFER Nose art of a lady in a swimsuit (2005)
SEA DRAGON Nose art in FEB14 (Winner of a competition for the Clipsal 500 motor race)
- Nose art for Fincastle 1998 "Team Australia 1 In All In"
- Nose art for Fincastle 1993 "The Colonials"
- Nose art of a blonde girl kneeling (FEB11)

 

ORION ART

A9-756
10SQN 70TH ANNIVERSARY
A9-756
75TH ANNIVERSARY 10/11 SQNS
A9-756
PATROL WING 2 RAINBOW ZAP
A9-759
PATROL WING 2 RAINBOW ZAP
A9-760
75TH ANNIVERSARY OF RAAF
A9-759
20,000 OPERATIONAL HOURS MEAO
A9-756
FINCASTLE 1997
A9-664
THAT'S HOW WE ROLL
A9-760
BROOKE
A9-656
HOLLIE
A9-?
HOLLYWOOD
A9-?
JENNIFER
A9-656
MIRANDA
A9-?
STEPHANIE
A9-661
NICKY
A9-?
SEA DRAGON

 

FOR THE LAST TIME


A9-757 stripped and awaiting a new coat of paint at the Air New Zealand paintshop in Christchurch on 6 July 2013.

 

Following the closure of the RAAF's Corrosion Control Facility at Richmond in 2009, it became necessary for the Orions to be painted by outside contractors. Accordingly, in 2012 a contract was let to Boeing Defence Australia for thirteen Orions to be stripped and repainted. Boeing partnered with Air New Zealand Engineering Services for the work to be performed in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was reported that this would be the last time the Orions would require repainting before they were replaced by the Boeing P-8A Poseidon. (Source: 5)

The first aircraft (A9-662) arrived in Christchurch on 17 May 2012 and departed on 15 June. The other aircraft were cycled through the Christchurch facility with each repaint taking approximately thirty days. The final aircraft (A9-751) departed Christchurch on 16 June 2014 as "AUSY 217" direct to Edinburgh, SA.

That this contract should be for 13 aircraft is curious because by this time the RAAF still had 16 Orions on strength. Of the original 20 P-3Cs, A9-754 had been lost at Cocos Island in 1991 and A9-755, 758 and 663 had been withdrawn from service and scrapped in 2014. The following table lists 12 Orions that were observed going through the Christchurch paint shop (Note: one aircraft is missing). This leaves 4 aircraft, A9-756, 759, 657 and 660. It is surmised that it may have been deemed prudent to have the two ELINT aircraft (657 and 660) painted elsewhere, if indeed they required repainting. This leaves A9-756 and 759 and the conclusion that one was painted and one wasn't. A recent comparison of both aircraft suggests that A9-756 was repainted and A9-759 was not. (See photo)

 

A9-656 in Christchurch on 13 September 2012 after being repainted.
(Picture: Peter Ede)

 

A9-751 departing Christchurch on 16 June 2014 after being repainted by Air New Zealand. (Picture: Matt Hayes)

 

A9-759 photographed in storage at Parkes, NSW in April 2018. The patch of fresh paint on the nose appears to be covering artwork that was carried by A9-759 in 2011. This would seem to indicate that A9-759 was not repainted with the others in 2012-2014. A9-756, which is displayed at the South Australian Aviation Museum, has a superior finish which suggests that A9-756 was repainted in Christchurch and A9-759 was not. (Picture: HARS)

 

 

THE FINAL REPAINT
#
AIRCRAFT
ARR CHC
DEP CHC
1
A9-662
17MAY12
15JUN12
2
A9-656
15AUG12
21SEP12
3
A9-664
16NOV12
18DEC12
4
A9-752
01FEB13
04MAR13
5
A9-661
XXMAR13
10APR13
6
A9-753
27APR13
28MAY13
7
A9-757
23JUN13
XXJUL13
8
A9-658
19OCT13
15NOV13
9
A9-665
14NOV13
15DEC13
10
A9-659
14DEC13
04FEB14
11
A9-760
16APR14
18MAY14
12
A9-751
16MAY14
16JUN14
13
A9-756?
?
?


(Source: 4)


 

Additions & Corrections

 

 

SOURCES
1
L.V. Wake, "Development and Evaluation of a Near Infrared Reflecting and Low Visibility Paint Scheme for RAAF P-3C Orion Aircraft", DSTO, October 1993
2
Official Monogram US Navy and Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide Vol. 4 1960-1993.
3
David Reade, "The Age of Orion", Schiffer, 1998
4
Mike Condon http://mrcaviation.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/raaf-orion.html
5
Air Force News, 31 July 2014

 



Issue Date Remarks
10 11MAY18
Added images of the Patrol Wing 2 rainbow zap markings applied to A9-756 and A9-759 during SILENT PEARL in 1985 thanks to Leigh Collins and Ian Pearson.
9 20APR18
The section For The Last Time on the last repaint has been updated.
8 09APR18
The section on P-3B markings has been revised thanks to input from Peter Gilvarry.
7 05APR18
Added a section For The Last Time on the last repaint. Also added a reference to red flaps.
6 31MAR18
Added a gallery of images of nose and tail art. Please note that high resolution images are rarely available.
5 20MAR18
Major revision to the section on the all grey scheme from sources shown in table above.
4 10MAR18
Further revision to the section on the interim scheme and the introduction of the all grey scheme.
3 08MAR18
Revised the section on the interim scheme on the basis of new evidence.
2 08MAR18
Added "Hollywood" to list of unassigned names.
1 08MAR18
Original issue.



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