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Canada Took the Best of The S-3 Viking and P-3 Orion and Created This Unique Bird

The CP-140 is the Canadian Do-It-All Version of the Lockheed P-3 Maritime Patrol Platform

On March 22nd 1979, the prototype Lockheed CP-140 Aurora took to the skies for the first time. While the Aurora is built on Lockheed’s P-3 Orion airframe, the CP-140 has an entirely different sensor suite than does the Orion. Now operating in its 36th year, the CP-140 is Canada’s primary platform for maritime and overland intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination, anti-surface warfare, and search and rescue (SAR) missions. The Aurora also combats illegal immigration, fishing, polluting, and drug trafficking in Canada.

Photo credit: Rob Schleiffert

As Canada’s primary anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platform, the CP-140 can also detect and destroy the latest generation of submarines with improved quieting. In combination, these capabilities allow the Aurora to detect, deter and control illegal or hostile activity anywhere in Canada’s maritime approaches or remote regions. The CP-140 can also perform rescue work using its air-droppable survival pods.

Photo Credit: Ken Mist

The Aurora became necessary when Canada needed a replacement for their aging fleet of Canadair CP-107 Argus anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Developed from the Bristol Britannia transport, the Argus was powered by Wright R-3350 radial engines. While a fine and immensely capable aircraft in its day, by the late 1970s they were showing their age and parts for the older aircraft systems were becoming difficult to obtain.

Photo Credit: Airwolfhound

The Canadians looked at the Lockheed products of the day and chose the best assets from each. The obvious external resemblance to the P-3 Orion belies the important differences inside the Aurora. CP-140s use two of the sensor suites and processing systems used in the then cutting edge, but now retired carrier-based Lockheed S-3 Viking– also an ASW aircraft of some note.

Photo Credit: Korona Lacasse

At the heart of the Aurora sensor suite is the digital processor.

At the heart of the Aurora sensor suite is the digital processor. Essentially it is an airborne computer able to simultaneously process and display inputs from the sea-search radar, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imager, electronic support measures (ESM) emitter location system, and the tail-mounted magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), and other mission equipment. By comparison, each system on board the P-3 Orion is individually operated and its data separately displayed.

Photo Credit: Rob Schleiffert

Canadian CP-140s not only perform ASW missions but also conduct long-range search and rescue and strategic intelligence and surveillance work for various Canadian government agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CSOFC), Canada Command, and Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC).

Photo Credit: Korona Lacasse

Auroras have deployed to Naval Air Station (NAS) Adak in Alaska, and NAS Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. Foreign deployments have taken Auroras to Andoya Air Base in Norway, NAS Keflavik in Iceland, RAF Saint Mawgan in England, and RAF Kinloss in Scotland as well as other even more exotic and out-of-the-way locales.

Photo Credit: Filterkaffe

Specific missions assigned to CP-140s have included counter-narcotic patrols in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, maritime surveillance during Operation Sharp Guard (the blockade of Yugoslavia), Operation Sirius and Operation Active Endeavour (anti-terrorism patrols in the Mediterranean), Operation Apollo (the Canadian component of the war in Afghanistan), and maritime patrol missions in Libyan waters to assist with enforcement of the no-fly zones during Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Unified Protector.

Photo Credit: Antoine Letart

Similar to the need to upgrade and improve the American P-3 Orion fleet over the years, the Canadian Auroras have undergone several incremental upgrades to cockpit instrumentation, flight control systems, communications equipment, airframe, and mission equipment over their service lives. Having flirted with replacement by newer aircraft several times, the Canadian Auroras just keep on getting the job done in the Great White North.

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.