The Royal New Zealand Air Force has accepted its first upgraded Lockheed Martin P-3K2 under a delayed project to transform the capabilities of its six-strong Orion fleet.
Handed over at Whenuapai air base on 3 May, P-3K2 prototype NZ4204 features glass cockpit avionics, an upgraded mission system, replacement communications and navigation equipment and new sensors.
The new standard will introduce a fundamental change to the capability of 5 Sqn, Air Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell, chief of air force, said.
NZ4204 will now undergo a period of operational testing and evaluation to prove its transition from maritime patrol aircraft to airborne surveillance and response asset.
New Zealand's P-3K2 upgrade dates back to October 2004, when L-3 Communications Integrated Systems was awarded a fixed-price contract worth NZ$373 million ($291 million), with NZ4204 having arrived at the company's Greenville site in Texas in September 2005 for modification.
The aircraft had been due for return late in 2008, but the programme encountered lengthy delays because of factors including concerns over stall performance, anomalies with its digital indicated airspeed display during take-offs and a periodic yaw problem.
Resolving these required additional flight-testing and data analysis. The prototype was also unable to fly for six months last year following the discovery of loose fasteners on its wing straps.
Despite these problems, sources said the aircraft's data management system is now proving to be stable and its new sensors are "demonstrating excellent detection performance".
Work on all six aircraft was to have been completed by September 2010 but the Department of Defence now estimates the project will be completed by mid-2013.
Production aircraft NZ4201 should be delivered from sub-contractor Safe Air's Blenheim site in New Zealand within the next few months.