The Lockheed P-2 Neptune (originally designated P2V until September 1962) was a Maritime patrol and ASW aircraft. It was developed for the United States Navy by Lockheed to replace the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura and PV-2 Harpoon, and being replaced in turn with the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Designed as a land-based aircraft, the Neptune never made a carrier landing, although a small number of aircraft were converted and deployed as carrier launched stop-gap nuclear bombers which would have to ditch or recover at land bases. The type was successful in export and saw service with several armed forces.
Development of a new land-based patrol bomber began early in World War II, with design work starting at Lockheed's Vega subsidiary as a private venture on 6 December 1941. At first, the new design was considered a low priority compared to other aircraft in development at the time, with Vega also developing and producing the PV-2 Harpoon patrol bomber. On 19 February 1943, the U.S. Navy signed a letter of intent for two prototpe XP2Vs, which was confirmed by a formal contract on 4 April 1944 with a further 15 aircraft being ordered 10 days later. It was not until 1944 that the program went into full swing. A major factor in the design was ease of manufacture and maintenance, and this may have been a major factor in the type's long life and worldwide success. The first aircraft flew in 1945. Production began in 1946, and the aircraft was accepted into service in 1947.
Beginning with the P2V-5F model, the Neptune became one of the first aircraft in operational service to be fitted with both piston and jet engines. The Convair B-36, several Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, Fairchild C-123 Provider, and Avro Shackleton aircraft were also so equipped. To save the weight and complexity of two separate fuel systems, the jet engines on the P2Vs did not burn jet fuel- they burned the same fuel as the piston engines: 115–145 Avgas. The jet pods were fitted with intake doors that were kept closed when the J-34's were not running to prevent them from windmilling, allowing for economical piston-engine-only long endurance search and patrol operations. In normal U.S. Navy operations, the jet engines were run at full power (97%) to expedite and assure all takeoffs, then shut down when the aircraft reached a safe altitude above ground. Also, the jets were started and kept running at flight idle during low-altitude (500 feet during the day and 1,000 feet at night) anti-submarine and/or anti-shipping operations at sea as a safety measure in case one of the radials developed problems.
Normal crew access was via a ladder on the aft bulkhead of the nose wheel well to a hatch on the left side of the wheel well, then forward to the observer nose or up through another hatch to the main deck. There was also a hatch in the floor of the after fuselage, near the sonobuoy chutes.
Operational history[edit source | edit]
Early Cold War[edit source | edit]
Prior to the introduction of the P-3 Orion in the mid-1960s, the Neptune was the primary U.S. land-based anti-submarine patrol craft, intended to be operated as the hunter of a '"Hunter-Killer" group, with destroyers employed as killers. Several features aided this task:
Sonobuoys could be launched from a station in the aft portion of the fuselage and monitored by radio
Some models were equipped with "pointable" twin .50 caliber machine guns in the nose, most had a forward observation bubble with an observer seat, a feature seen in several of the images.
A Magnetic Anomaly Detector was fitted in an extended tail, producing a paper chart. Unmarked charts were not classified, but those with annotations were classified as secret.
A belly-mounted surface search radar enabled detection of surfaced and snorkeling submarines at considerable distances.
As the P-2 was replaced in the U.S. Navy by the P-3A Orion in active Fleet squadrons in the early and mid-1960s, the P-2 continued to remain operational in the Naval Air Reserve through the mid-1970s, primarily in its SP-2H version. As active Fleet squadrons transitioned to the P-3B and P-3C in the mid- and late-1960s and early 1970s, the Naval Reserve P-2s were eventually replaced by P-3As and P-3Bs and the P-2 exited active U.S. naval service. VP-23 was the last active duty patrol squadron to operate the SP-2H, retiring its last Neptune on 20 February 1970.
Nuclear bomber[edit source | edit]
At the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy felt the need to acquire a nuclear strike capability to maintain its political influence. In the short term, carrier-based aircraft were the best solution. Nuclear munitions at that time were bulky and required a large aircraft to carry them. The U.S. Navy improvised a carrier-based nuclear strike aircraft by modifying the P2V Neptune for carrier takeoff using jet assisted takeoff (JATO) rocket boosters, with initial takeoff tests in 1948. But the Neptune couldn't land on a carrier, so the crew either had to make their way to a friendly land base after a strike, or ditch in the sea near a U.S. Navy vessel. It was replaced in this emergency role by the North American AJ Savage, the first nuclear strike aircraft that was fully capable of carrier launch and recovery operations; it was also short lived in that role as the U.S. Navy was adopting fully jet powered nuclear strike aircraft.
In 1954 under Project Cherry, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) obtained five newly built P2V-7 and converted these into P2V-7U/RB-69A variants by Lockheed's Skunk Works at Hangar B5 in Burbank, California, for the CIA's own private fleet of covert ELINT/ferret aircraft. Later to make up P2V-7U/RB-69A operational losses, the CIA obtained and converted two existing U.S. Navy P2V-7s, one in September 1962, and one in December 1964 to P2V-7U/RB-69A Phase VI standard, and also acquired an older P2V-5 from U.S. Navy as training aircraft in 1963. Test flights done by lead aircraft at Edwards AFB from 1955 to 1956, all the aircraft painted with dark sea blue color but with USAF markings. In 1957 one P2V-7U was sent to Eglin AFB for testing aircraft performance at low level and under adverse conditions. The initial two aircraft were sent to Europe, based at Wiesbaden, West Germany, but were later withdrawn in 1959 when the CIA reduced its covert aircraft assets in Europe. The CIA sent the other two P2V-7U/RB-69As to Hsinchu Air Base, Taiwan, where by December 1957, they were given to a "Black Op" unit, the 34th Squadron, better known as the Black Bat Squadron, of the Republic of China Air Force (|ROCAF/Taiwan); these were painted in ROCAF/Taiwan markings. The ROCAF/Taiwan P2V-7U/RB-69A's mission was to conduct low level penetration flights into mainland China to conduct ELINT/ferret missions including mapping out China's air defense networks, inserting agents via airdrop, and dropping leaflets and supplies. The agreement for plausible deniability between U.S. and ROC governments meant the RB-69A would be manned by ROCAF/Taiwan crew while conducting operational missions, but would be manned by CIA crew when ferrying RB-69A out of Taiwan or other operational area to US.
The P2V-7U/RB-69A flew with ROCAF/Taiwan Black Bat Squadron over China from 1957 to November 1966. All five original aircraft (two crashed in South Korea, three shot down over China) were lost with all hands on board. In January 1967, two remaining RB-69As flew back to NAS Alameda, California, and were converted back to regular U.S. Navy P2H/P2V-7 ASW aircraft configurations. Most of the 34th Squadron's Black Op missions still remain classified by the CIA, although a CIA internal draft history, Low-Level Technical Reconnaissance over Mainland China (1955–66), reference CSHP-2.348, written in 1972 that covers CIA/ROCAF/Taiwan 34th Squadron's Black Op missions is known to be in existence but would not be declassified by the CIA until after 2022.
Vietnam War[edit source | edit]
During the Vietnam War, the Neptune was used by the U.S. Navy as a gunship, an overland reconnaissance and sensor deployment aircraft, and in its traditional role as a maritime patrol aircraft. The Neptune was also utilized by the U.S. Army's 1st Radio Research Company (Aviation), call sign "Crazy Cat", based at Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam, as an electronic "ferret" aircraft intercepting low-powered tactical voice and morse code radio signals. The U.S. Army operated the P-2 from 1967 until 1972, flying 42,500 hours with no accidents. Observation Squadron 67 (VO-67), call sign "Lindy", was the only P-2 Neptune aircraft squadron to ever receive the Presidential Unit Citation, flying Igloo White missions sowing seismic and acoustic sensors over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. VO-67 lost three OP-2E aircraft and 20 aircrew to ground fire during its secret missions into Laos and Vietnam in 1967–68. The ROCAF/Taiwan's secret 34th Squadron's RB-69A/P2V-7U ELINT/SIGINT aircraft flew a low level electronic reconnaissance from Da Nang, flying over Thanh Hóa Province on 20 August 1963 to investigate an air resupply drop zone that turned out to be a set trap for a Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) C-123B airdrop mission 10 days earlier due to the air-inserted agents having been captured and turned. Next year, an air defense radar mapping mission was also flown by 34th Squadron's RB-69A/P2V-7U aircraft into North Vietnam and Laos on the night of 16 March 1964. The RB-69A took off from Da Nang, flew up the Gulf of Tonkin before coasting in near Haiphong, then flew down North Vietnam and the Laos border. The mission was requested by SOG for helping plan the insert or resupply of agents. Seven AAA sites, 14 early warning radar sites and two CGI radar signals were detected.
Falklands War[edit source | edit]
The Argentine Naval Aviation had received at least 16 Neptunes in different variants since 1958 including eight former RAF examples for use in the Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Exploración (Naval exploration squadron). They were intensively used in 1978 during the Operation Soberania against Chile including over the Pacific Ocean.
During the Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas) in 1982, the last two airframes in service (2-P-111 and 2-P-112) played a key role of reconnaissance and aiding Dassault Super Étendards, particularly on 4 May attack against HMS Sheffield. The lack of spare parts, caused by the U.S. having enacted an arms embargo in 1977 due to the Dirty War, led to the type being retired before the end of the war; Argentine Air ForceLockheed C-130 Hercules took over the task of searching for targets for strike aircraft.
The Canadian version of the Lockheed Neptune (P2V-7) served as an anti-submarine, anti-shipping and maritime reconnaissance aircraft in the RCAF Maritime Air Command from 1955, being fitted with just piston engines initially. In 1957, the Neptunes had two underwing Westinghouse J34 jet engine pods installed. This conversion provided additional thrust for an improved takeoff, increased endurance by allowing higher weights of fuel and generally improved the overall performance of the aircraft. (These pods were fitted with inlet shutters for drag reduction when unused; similar pods were fitted to U.S. Navy variants.) Armament included two torpedoes, mines, depth charges, bombs carried internally plus unguided rockets mounted externally underwing. A total of 25 Neptunes served with nos. 404, 405 and 407 squadrons. Upon unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, the Neptune was re-designated the CP-122 and was replaced by the Canadair CP-107 Argus the same year.
In Australia, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Navy, its tasks were taken over by the larger and more capable Lockheed P-3 Orion, and by the 1970s, it was only in use by patrol squadrons in the U.S. Naval Reserve and the Dutch Navy. The U.S. Naval Reserve abandoned its last Neptunes in 1978, those aircraft also having been replaced by the P-3 Orion. By the 1980s, the Neptune had fallen out of military use in most purchasing nations, replaced by newer aircraft.
Neptune Aviation Services' P-2V Neptune drops Phos-Chek on the 2007 WSA Complex fire in Oregon.
In Japan, the Neptune was license-built from 1966 by Kawasaki as the P-2J, with the piston engines replaced by IHI-built T64 turboprops. Kawasaki continued their manufacture much later than Lockheed did; the P-2J remained in service until 1984.
Civilian firefighting[edit source | edit]
P-2/P2Vs are currently employed in aerial firefighting roles by operators such as Minden Air Corp and Neptune Aviation Services. The fire fighters can carry 2,400 gal (9,084 l) of retardant and have a service life of 15,000 hours. Neptune proposes to replace them with British Aerospace 146 aircraft which are estimated to have a service life of 80,000 hours.
"The Truculent Turtle"[edit source | edit]
The third production P2V-1 was chosen for a record-setting mission, ostensibly to test crew endurance and long-range navigation but also for publicity purposes: to display the capabilities of the U.S. Navy's latest patrol bomber. Its nickname was "The Turtle", which was painted on the aircraft's nose (along with a cartoon of a turtle smoking a pipe pedaling a device attached to a propeller). However, in press releases immediately before the flight, the U.S. Navy referred to it as "The Truculent Turtle".
P2V-1 "The Turtle" in 1946
Loaded with fuel in extra tanks fitted in practically every spare space in the aircraft, "The Turtle" set out from Perth, Australia to the United States. With a crew of four (and a nine-month-old gray kangaroo, a gift from Australia for the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.) the aircraft set off on 9 September 1946, with a RATO (rocket-assisted takeoff). Two and a half days (55h, 18m) later, "The Turtle" touched down in Columbus, Ohio, 11,236.6 mi (18,083.6 km) from its starting point. It was the longest un-refueled flight made to that point – 4,000 mi (6,400 km) longer than the U.S. Air Force's Boeing B-29 Superfortress record. This would stand as the absolute unrefueled distance record until 1962 (beaten by an USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress), and would remain as a piston-engined record until 1986 when Dick Rutan's Voyager would break it in the process of circumnavigating the globe. "The Turtle" is preserved at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola.
Variants[edit source | edit]
P2V-3 of VP-5 in 1953
P2V-5 with nose turret in 1952
An OP-2E of VO-67 in 1967/68 over Laos
P-2H of VP-56 in 1963
Restored French P-2H in Australia, 2004
U.S. Navy AP-2H of VAH-21
Minden Air's Tanker 55, formerly an SP-2H, at Fox Field
RB-69A of the CIA in USAF markings at Eglin AFB, Florida in 1957.
U.S. Army AP-2E also designated RP-2E used in SIGINT/ELINT operations in Vietnam. The Burbank Boomerang is on display at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum at Ft. Rucker Alabama.
Lockheed produced seven main variants of the P2V. In addition, Kawasaki built the turboprop-powered P-2J in Japan.
Prototype, two built. Powered by two 2,300 horsepower (1,700 kW) Wright R-3350-8 engines with four-bladed propellers, with armament of two .50 in machine guns in nose, tail and dorsal turrets, and 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg) of stores in an internal bomb bay.
First production model with R-3350-8A engine. Provision for 16 5 inches (130 mm) HVAR or 4 11 3⁄4 inches (300 mm) Tiny Tim rockets underwing; 14 built.
Fifth production P2V-1 modified as a prototype for P2V-2. Powered by with water injected R-3350-24W engines.
Second production model, powered by two 2,800 horsepower (2,100 kW) R-3350-24W engines driving and three-bladed propellers. Nose turret replaced by "attack" nose fitted with six fixed 20 mm cannon. First eight aircraft retained Bell tail turret fitted with twin .50 machine guns, with remaining aircraft using Emerson tail turret with twin 20 mm cannon. 80 built.
P2V-2N "Polar Bear"
Two P2V-2 modified for polar exploration under Project Ski Jump. Armament removed, with ski landing gear and provision for JATO rockets. Fitted with early MAD gear for magnetic survey purposes. Used for Operation Deep Freeze Antarctic exploration. The specially modified P2Vs had 16-foot long aluminum skis that were attached to the main landing gear units that when retracted, tucked into fairing just below the engines. This way the modified P2vs could still land on a regular runway surface.
One P2V-2 modified as a prototype anti-submarine variant with an AN/APS-20 search radar and additional fuel.
Improved patrol bomber with 3,200 horsepower (2,400 kW) R-3350-26W engines with jet stack engine exhausts. 53 built.
Conversions from other P2V-3 models, including P2V-3C and −3W, fitted with the ASB-1 Low Level Radar Bombing System; 16 converted.
Stop-gap carrier based one-way nuclear-armed bomber, not intended to return for a landing on a carrier. Fitted with JATO rocket to aid take-off from carrier and more fuel. Nose guns and dorsal turret removed to save weight. Eleven P2V-3s and one P2V-2 modified.
Airborne Early Warning variant, AN/APS-20 search radar; 30 built.
VIP combat transport with armored cabin in rear fuselage with seats for six passengers. Retained tail turret. Two converted from P2V-3s.
Improved anti-submarine aircraft. Fitted with AN/APS-20 search radar and provision for dropping sonobuoys with additional dedicated sonobuoy operator. Underwing tip-tanks added, with searchlight in nose of starboard tip tank. First 25 aircraft powered by 3,200 horsepower (2,400 kW) R-3350-26WA engines, with remaining 27 powered by 3,250 horsepower (2,420 kW) Wright R-3350-30W turbo-compound engines. 52 built in total. Surviving aircraft redesignated P-2D in 1962.
Fitted with Emerson nose turret with two 20 mm cannon replacing solid nose of earlier versions, while retaining dorsal and tail turrets. New, larger, jettisonable tip tanks, with traverable searchlight slaved to nose turret in front of starboard tip-tank and AN/APS-8 radar in nose of port tip-tank. AN/APS-20 search radar under fuselage. Later aircraft featured glazed observation nose and MAD gear in place of nose and tail turrets, and revised crew accommodation, with many earlier aircraft refitted. Dorsal turret often removed. 424 built.
Modification with two 3,250 pounds-force (14.5 kN) J34 jet engines to increase power on take-off, and 3,500 horsepower (2,600 kW) R-3350-32W piston engines. The J34 engines and R-3350 had a common fuel system burning AvGas rather than having dedicated jet fuel (as did all Neptunes with jets except the Kawasaki P-2J). Four underwing rocket pylons removed but increased 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) weapon load. Redesignated P-2E in 1962.
P2V-5F converted for drone launch missions. All weaponry deleted. Redesignated DP-2E in 1962.
P2V-5F with additional electronic equipment. Redesiognated EP-2E in 1962.
P2V-5F with Julie/Jezebel ASW gear, featuring AQA-3 long range acoustic search equipment and Julie explosive echo sounding gear. Redesignated SP-2E in 1962.
Designation applied to P2V-5F with special SIGINT/ELINT equipment used by the U.S. Army's 1st Radio Research Company at Cam Ranh Bay. Carrying a crew of up to fifteen, the AP-2E was the heaviest P-2, with a take-off weight of up to 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg). Five converted (also designated RP-2E).
Single P-2E converted as permanent test aircraft.
Modified for use as part of Operation Igloo White for sensor deployment over South-East Asia with Observation Squadron 67 (VO-67). Fitted with terrain avoidance radar in nose, chaff dispensers, wing mounted gun pods and waist guns. Twelve converted.
Multi-role version with lengthened weapons bay and provision for aerial minelaying and photo-reconnaissance. Smaller AN/APS-70 radar instead of AN/APS-20. Initially fitted with gun turrets as P2V-5, although retaining ability to be refitted with glazed nose. A total of 67 were built for the U.S. Navy and France. Redesignated P-2F in 1962.
P2V-6 refitted with J34 jet engines. Redesignated P-2G.
Crew trainer conversion with armament deleted, wingtip tanks often deleted. Redesignated TP-2F.
Last Neptune variant produced by Lockheed, powered by R-3350-32W and J-34 engines. Fitted with lower drag wingtip tanks, AN/APS-20 search radar in a revised radome and a bulged cockpit canopy. Early aircraft were fitted with defensive gun turrets but these were removed as for the P2V-5. 287 were built, including 48 assembled by Kawasaki in Japan. Redesignated P-2H in 1962.
15 aircraft with non-glazed gun nose for Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service. Subsequently fitted with glazed nose and modified to SP-2H standard. Supplemented by four SP-2H from France.
Four aircraft built with wheel/ski landing gear and JATO gear for Antarctic operations. Redesignated LP-2J. (No relation to Kawasaki P-2J)
Additional ASW/ECM equipment including Julie/Jezebel gear. Redesignated SP-2H.
Specialized night and all-weather ground attack variant fitted with FLIR and Low Light TV systems, tail turret, fuselage mounted grenade launchers and downwards firing miniguns. Bombs and napalm carried on underwing pylons. Four converted for Heavy Attack Squadron 21 (VAH-21).
Five new built and two converted from P2V-7s for CIA covert operations, obtained with USAF help and operated by ROCAF/Taiwan's 34th Squadron. Aerial reconnaissance/ELINT platform, modular sensor packages fitted depended on the mission needs. Originally fitted with Westinghouse APQ-56 Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR), the APQ-24 search radar, the Fairchild Mark IIIA cameras, the APR-9/13 radar intercept receiver, the QRC-15 DF system, the APA-69A DF display, the APA-74 pulse analyser, the Ampex tape recorder, the System 3 receiver to intercept enemy communications, the APS-54 RWR, a noise jammer, the RADAN system doppler radar navigation, and others. In May 1959, an upgrade program known as Phase VI was approved, and added the ATIR air-to-air radar jammer, replacing APR-9/13 with ALQ-28 ferret system, the QRC-15, 3 14-channel recorders and 1 7-channel high speed recorder to record ELINT systems, the K-band receiver, the ASN-7 navigation computer replacing RADAN, and Fulton Skyhook system.[verification needed]
The SC-139 designation was requested for a planned transport version of the Neptune; the designation was disapproved, and none of the planned aircraft were built.
To be displayed is the Neptune /Firestar registered CC-CHU of Heliworks Ltda. Currently dismantled in Concepción/Carriel Sur airport, the ex BuNo 147967 and N703AU/Tanker 03, its incorporation into the collection of Chile's Museo Nacional Aeronáutico y del Espacio at the former Los Cerrillos airport in Santiago, was announced during the ceremony of the 69th Anniversary of Museum on July 4, 2013.
On 22 June 1955, a P2V-5 of VP-9 (BuNo 131515), flying a patrol mission from Kodiak, Alaska, was attacked over the Bering Straits by two Soviet Air Forces MiG-15s. The P2V crash-landed on St. Lawrence Island after an engine was set afire. Of the eleven crew members, including pilot Richard F. Fischer, co-pilot David M. Lockhard, Donald E. Sonnek, Thaddeus Maziarz, Martin E. Berg, Eddie Benko, David Assard and Charles Shields, four sustained injuries due to gunfire and six were injured during the landing. The U.S. demanded $724,947 in compensation; the USSR finally paid half this amount.[N 3][N 4]
On 25 March 1960, an RB-69A/P2V-7U (7101/140442/54-4040) crashed into a hill near Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, during a low level ferry flight from Hsinchu, Taiwan to stage area in Kunsan, South Korea. All 14 aircrew on board were killed.
On 6 November 1961, an RB-69A/P2V-7U (7099/140440/54-4039) conducting a low level penetration flight over mainland China was shot down by ground fire over Liaodong peninsula. All 14 aircrew on board were killed in action.
On 9 November 1961, an P2V-7LP (BuNo 140439) of VX-6 crashed on takeoff from Wilkes StationAntarctica, where it had refuelled en route back to McMurdo Station. Four aircrew and one passenger were killed, with four aircrew surviving.
On 8 January 1962, a RB-69A/P2V-7U(7097/140438/54-4038) crashed into the Korea Bay while conducting ELINT and leaflet dropping missions. All 14 aircrew on board were killed in action.
On 19 June 1963, a RB-69A/P2V-7U(7105/141233/54-4041) was conducting ELINT mission over mainland China, and was shot down by PLAAFMiG-17PF over Linchuan, Jiangxi, after intercepted repeatedly by multiple MiG-17PFs and Tu-4Ps. All 14 aircrew on board were killed in action.
On 11 June 1964, a RB-69A/P2V-7U (7047/135612/54-4037) was conducting ELINT mission over mainland China, and was shot down by PLAN-AF MiG-15 over Shandong peninsula, after intercepted by MiG-15s and Il-28s. All 13 aircrew on board were killed in action.
On 5 September 2008, a Neptune Aviation Services Lockheed Neptune registered N4235T, crashed soon after takeoff from Reno/Stead Airport, Reno, Nevada. The left engine and then left wing were seen to catch fire before the aircraft crashed. All three crew members on board were killed.
On 3 June 2012, while engaged in firefighting operations in Utah, a Neptune Aviation Services Lockheed Neptune registered N14447, crashed. Two crew members were killed.