The Hickory Aviation Museum added another piece of military aviation history to its collection when it accepted a recently retired P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, a submarine hunter.
The aircraft was in service 48 years and was flown into Hickory by a U.S. Navy crew Wednesday. It is only one of four at a museum.
Navy veteran Jim Munday remembers the aircraft from working on them in 1968 during the Vietnam War. He lives in Caldwell County now but visits the Hickory Aviation Museum every couple of months. He’s always had a love for airplanes.
“When I was younger I used to come to the Hickory airport and watch the DC-3s take off,” Munday said.
The P-3C Orion is a land-based, long-range, anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft. Its mission includes surveillance of the battle space, either at sea or above land with a long-range and long loiter time. The P-3C has proved to be invaluable during overseas contingency operations, according to navair.navy.mil. It has a crew of up to 12 and a variety of armament: AGM-84 Harpoon, AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-65F Maverick missiles, Mk46/50/54 torpedoes, rockets, mines and depth bombs.
Hickory’s P-3C Orion (156515) was accepted from Lockheed Martin in 1969 by the U.S. Navy. The turbo prop aircraft is 116 feet long, 33 feet high and has a wingspan of 99.6 feet.
It has been attached to the following squadrons: VP-30, VP-31, VP-48, VP-46, VP-1, VP-62, VP-92, VP-4, VP-40, VP-9 and VP-10.
The P-3C Orion in Hickory actually belongs to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., which loans out assets to other museums.
Retired Senior Chief from the Navy, Stan Lenharr is in charge of the demilitarization of the P-3C, working for PMA 290 out of Patuxent River, Md. The organization manages the acquisition, development, support and delivery of the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft, according to navair.navy.mil.
Lenharr and Kregg Kirby with the Hickory Aviation Museum worked together to coordinate things with the museum in Florida to get the P-3C, which was last attached to VP-30, the P-3C Fleet Replacement Squadron.
What excited Lenharr the most about bringing the aircraft to Hickory was the chance to use it as an educational tool.
“When Kregg and I talked about this and he told me he could have thousands of kids a year go through these airplanes, I said, ‘you don’t know what’s in that kid’s mind at 6 or 7 years old and they’re inside that airplane,” Lenharr said. “They could be potential academy grads flying the future fighter planes or other future aircraft for the U.S. Navy down the road because of the experience they had in that airplane.”
Lenharr said it’s an honor to know the legacy for the P-3C is going to be able to stay here in Hickory for years to come.
Navy veterans, Wayne Vaughn and Skip O’halloran will be part of the team to help demilitarize the aircraft and prepare it for the museum as well. They both worked on P-3C s when they were in the service.
“It’s as dependable as a hammer,” Vaughn, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1964-69, said. “We’d go 12-hour flights over the ocean. Our whole mission was over the ocean.”
O’halloran remembers coming off missions with the aircraft white, covered in salt from flying over the ocean. He was a flight engineer in the Navy reserves for 17 years and got out in 1999.