I am reporting in next week's magazine that a subset of the P-3C Orion fleet will outlive its planned retirement by the Boeing 737-based P-8A Poseidon. I'll post the link to the article here when it's available.
I consider the story a testament to the P-3C's record of freakish survival skills.
Adapted from the doomed, 1950s-era Lockheed L-188 Electra airliner, the Orion first survived its predecessor's untimely demise in the regional airliner market. It should have been replaced by the Lockheed P-7 in the early 1990s, but the P-7's setbacks and budget cuts kept the P-3C alive for at least another 30 years. Then, a series of inspections starting about 10 years ago nearly forced the navy to ground the entire fleet due to surprise revelations of fatigue damage. A rushed repair job called the special structural inspection kit (SSIK) kept about half the P-3C fleet in the air. But even that proved insufficient. During the last five years, wing inspections revealed shocking damage caused by corrosion and fatigue. By September 2009, all but 49 of the 120 combat-coded P-3C fleet was grounded. Only a furious effort by Naval Air Systems Command, led by P-3 sustainment lead Bob Holmes, allowed the navy to restore 33 Orions to flying status as of late October. Meanwhile, the navy is quietly investing to rewing at least 29 P-3Cs, allowing a subset of the Orion fleet to remain airworthy long after it is scheduled to be replaced by the P-8A.
Reports of the P-3C fleets demise, despite averaging 16,500 flying hours on an airframe designed to survive 7,500, are truly exaggerated.