The P2V Neptune (redesignated P-2 under the unified 1962 system) was a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft first flown in 1945. Primary design credit is given to John Wassall, chief engineer of Lockheed’s Vega division. The aircraft first flew May 17, 1945, and the total production of 1,181 machines is impressive for such a specialized aircraft.
Though not a star, “Neptune” was more or less in keeping with Lockheed’s star-based nomenclature tradition, as Neptune is a planet that looks like a star from Earth. The planet Neptune was in turn named after the Roman god of the sea, making it appropriate for a sea patrol aircraft.
Neptunes served with several of the world’s navies (and air forces, in countries where that service had responsibility for maritime patrol) for varying periods of time. The Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force used P2Vs only briefly in the 1950s as stopgaps until their homegrown aircraft (Britain’s Avro Shackleton, Canada’s Canadair Argus) came on line. Japan was the longest user, putting the type into license production by Kawasaki and updating it to serve into the 1980s.
The airframe proved quite adaptable and variants were also used as gunships, surveillance aircraft (including under combat conditions in the Vietnam War) and VIP transports.
In civil guise, the Neptune has been especially long-lived as a fire-fighting aircraft, with several examples still serving in this role in 2013. Despite their availability on retirement from such outfits, the Neptune has been a difficult and costly proposition to keep flying as a warbird. The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Pennsylvania operated one for a time, but it has been grounded for several years. A fair number are available for viewing on static display around the United States and in the other countries where they were used, including Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Argentina, Britain and Portugal.
P2V-1 89082 “Truculent Turtle”
“Truculent Turtle” (actually the plane was just named “The Turtle”, but in casual speech that didn’t seem aggressive enough so it is always called “Truculent Turtle”) is the earliest P2V to have survived, the third production example. In 1947 the U.S. Navy loaded it up with fuel, lightened it by throwing out everything that wasn’t screwed to the floor and quite a few things that were, and flew it from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio, the longest nonstop, non-refueled flight ever made at that time. The aircraft wound up at the Smithsonian Institution but was eventually transferred back to the Navy, which displays it at its National Naval Aviation Museum. The plane became pretty beat up from many years stored outside, as shown by the last few photos in this gallery, but it underwent a refurbishment in the mid-2000s and now looks as it did during its 1947 record flight.
This P2V-5 (later designated SP-2E) is displayed at the Quonset Air Museum. Its history includes service with Patrol Squadron 1 (VP-1).
This P2V was one of several acquired by the U.S. Army, redesignated AP-2E, and deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, for surveillance and, when necessary, attack duties in support of Army operations between 1967 and 1972. This one is shown in 1977 after it had been retired to the Army’s Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama. “Crazy Cat” as seen on the nose of this aircraft was the name given to these aircraft and the unit, innocuously named the 1st Radio Research Company (Aviation).
Neptunes were used as air tankers by the Evergreen company, so it’s no surprise that one of theirs is on display outside the Evergreen Air Museum. This machine was registered N202EV in civilian service.
Taken by Dick at Cam Ranh Bay in 1968, this images shows an AP-2E similar to 131485 above, but actually in service in the war theater.
A few of the Crazy Cats were more extensively armed as gunships, given special camouflage paint, and employed for more aggressive surveillance duties where the need to immediately attack targets was likely to arise. The Pima Air Museum displays one of the Neptunes converted for battlefield surveillance duties in Cam Ranh Bay during the war. This aircraft started life as a P2V-7 but was modified with special sensor equipment as well as ground attack armament for tracking and attacking North Korean forces.
AP-2Hs (unknown identities)
Dick photographed some of the special AP-2H variants in operational service in Vietnam as well. These photos were taken in April 1969. Because the paint schemes on these aircraft contained little or no identifying information, their serial numbers can’t be determined for sure; however, comparing the camouflage pattern on the aircraft partially shown on the left in the first photo to the shots of Pima’s 135620 above, they sure look like the same plane. Note also that in one of the photos, an “ordinary” Crazy Cat AP-2E, serial 131492, is visible in the right background.
Besides the “Turtle,” the U.S. Navy also preserves a later model Neptune more representative of the type’s service career. This is P2V-7S 141234, which operated with VP-65 from Point Mugu, California, until its 1974 retirement directly from service to the National Naval Aviation Museum.
These two pictures are a landing sequence of a stock Navy P2V-7 landing at Cam Ranh Bay in April 1968. This aircraft served with patrol squadron VP-42. Earlier, this aircraft had served with VP-1 in Alaska. It was consigned to the boneyard in the late 1970s and eventually scrapped.
The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum of Reading, Pennsylvania for a time maintained the only Neptune restored to military condition to tour the airshow circuit. The museum retrieved the aircraft from the USAF’s Davis-Monthan boneyard in the early 1980s and flew it into the 1990s. It has been retired to static display at the museum.
Displayed at Pima Air Museum, this P2V-7 represents the type in postwar service as a fire-fighter, which continues to this day. Registered N7060X and N14448, this machine fought fires from the mid 1970s until it was retired to the museum. The red-white-black lightning pinstripe applied to this and many other firefighting P2Vs resembles the marking applied to patrol aircraft in Royal Canadian Air Force service, but it appears this marking was adopted by some of the fire-fighting operators and also applied to aircraft that never served in the RCAF.
The Royal Canadian Air Force used P2Vs from 1955 through 1969 for maritime and anti-submarine patrol. In Canadian service the aircraft was designated CP-127. Canada did not preserve any of these Neptunes for posterity, so the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum at Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, Nova Scotia, in 1980 obtained this P2V-7, which is not an ex-RCAF machine, and repainted it to represent 24101, the first of Canada’s 25 Neptunes, in the initial sea blue scheme applied to the type. This is the only P2V displayed in Canada to represent the type’s RCAF service. Reportedly, there are ex-RCAF Neptunes still operated as tankers in the United States, so perhaps one will be brought back to Canada for display at Rockcliffe, Trenton or another appropriate museum.
P2V-7s 148342 and 148343
These two Neptunes, bearing consecutive serial numbers, were operated by patrol squadron VP-42 at Cam Ranh Bay and were photographed in April 1968 by Dick. 148342 was scrapped in the 1970s, but 148343 has survived, registered N715AU, and is stored in Montana.
Fifteen Neptunes were obtained by the Royal Netherlands Navy, where they were given serial numbers 200 through 214. Number 204 is preserved in Britain at the Royal Air Force Museum‘s Cosford location. These aircraft entered Dutch service in 1961 and served in Dutch New Guinea, then returned to the Netherlands for maritime patrol duties. This aircraft was donated by the Dutch to the Royal Air Force for museum display in 1982.