The three cameras fixed to the turret on the chin of the P-3K2 Orion spin 360 degrees, have wide angle and zoom lenses, show infrared imagery and can even spot whales swimming under the ocean’s surface.

“It’s basically the eyes of the plane,” avionics technician Sergeant (SGT) Dean Hart said.

It is an important instrument for the P-3K2 aircrew when they are on a search and rescue mission or on a maritime patrol operation, used to augment the other sensors on the plane including the “Mark One Eyeball” and provide a close-up view of the scene in all conditions.

Air warfare specialists operate the cameras with a joystick from the Tacrail. The equipment is so high tech, that by using the infra-red camera,

the crew can identify heat sources, such as running engines on vessels or people, in complete darkness.

The cameras were a vital asset following the devastating Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, as the aircraft was able to undertake mass surveillance and estimate how much damage the city had suffered.

“So when a disaster happens, like the Christchurch earthquakes or if a Pacific Island is hit by a natural disaster, a P-3K2 is sent up to do damage assessment.

“We can cover vast areas and record it all on camera – both high-quality still images and video from the MX-20.

“The crew can then send that footage to people in charge, like Government ministers and other authorities, who need to see the information.”

There are five computers inside the equipment that are networked together. It has its own inertial navigation system and its own GPS navigation system.

The whole camera platform is stabilised on electromagnets that levitate the cameras inside, so if the plane hits turbulence, the picture will still be clear.

The technology will continue to be used when the P-3K2 aircraft is replace by the P-8A, which comes fitted with an upgraded version, the MX-20HD.

“So just like the camera in your phone gets better and better with each new model, so does this. It will be fitted to the P-8As as well as the new Hercules C-130J-30 aircraft coming in a couple of years,” SGT Hart said.

Published in Air Force News, Issue 227(external link)

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