(Image courtesy: Astronautics Corporation of America)

Astronautics to upgrade cockpit displays on U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 Orions

The new glass cockpit equipment will keep the legacy aircraft compatible with modern system and will provide the opportunity for future avionics upgrades

Milwaukee-based Astronautics Corporation of America will update the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) fleet of Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion turboprop maritime surveillance aircraft with new primary flight and navigation displays. The purchase order, which was submitted by Lockheed Martin, includes upgrades for both CBP P-3 Orion variants: the P-3 Orion Long Range Tracker (LRT) and the P-3 Orion Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft.

Each of the CBP’s 14 P-3 aircraft will receive Astronautics’ AFD 6800 electronic flight instrument system (EFIS), including four modern 6- by 8-inch digital multifunction displays, wiring harnesses, and additional spare displays for maintenance and repair. The four liquid crystal display (LCD) screens will be split into pairs of primary flight displays and navigation displays for the pilot and copilot.


Astronautics P-3 Program Manager Todd Andrus and P-3 Product Engineering Manager Barbara Hofmann in the cockpit of a P-3 Orion during a 6x8-inch multifunction display fit check for the CPB fleet. (Image courtesy: Astronautics Corporation of America)


In order to minimize training and display certification, the company will port existing software from current Astronautics EFIS displays that were installed in the late 1990s. Prior to those first-generation glass cockpit instruments, the P-3 flew with original Astronautics attitude direction and horizontal situation indicators.


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“Astronautics is able to deliver the highest reliability displays tailored to meet our customers’ missions, ensuring they are able to operate wherever they need, whenever they need,” explains Robert Koelling, Astronautics director of business development. “For the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Astronautics provided an incremental, modular plan for upgrading its P-3 fleet that limited aircraft downtime and met budget and schedule needs.”


(Image courtesy: Astronautics Corporation of America)


The new displays will provide an improved viewing angle and color rendering using light emitting diode (LED) backlights that run cooler with less power and support more vibrant color. The AFD 6800 architecture supports night vision goggle integration and later transition to aircraft synthetic vision.

System delivery is expected in the summer of 2019.


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The Orion P-3

The Orion P-3 – a high-endurance, all-weather, tactical aircraft – was first introduced to the U.S. Navy in 1962 to track Soviet submarines during the Cold War. Since then, the P-3 has continued to fill long-range aerial patrols and surveillance missions.


(Image courtesy: Astronautics Corporation of America)


The CBP currently operates P-3 aircraft in AMO law enforcement configuration out of Corpus Christi, Texas and Jacksonville, Florida. The CPB uses the aircraft to patrol the southern U.S. coastal boarder and Caribbean and Eastern Pacific waters. The aircraft’s specialized detection capabilities allow crews to identify emerging threats in an area that is almost 14 times the size of the continental U.S.



The cockpit update follows a CBP P-3 service life extension plan (SLEP) overhaul initiated in 2006 and completed in 2016. At the time of the 2006 analysis, the CBP’s P-3 Orion LRT aircraft had less than eight years of remaining service life and the P-3 Orion AEW aircraft had less than three years.

Each of the 14 aircraft was stripped to bare metal for comprehensive airframe fatigue inspection. Then each aircraft received new wings, tail, and paint.



Astronautics Corporation of America

Since its founding in 1959, Astronautics has designed, developed, and manufactured secure avionics equipment and systems for the commercial and military aerospace industry. Astronautics is the parent company of Kearfott Corporation, headquartered in Woodland Park, New Jersey.


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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.

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