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The Night of The Hunter
December 14, 2011 12:10 PM   Subscribe

After 50 years of service, the Lockheed P-3 Orion, is standing down.

Based on the L-188 passenger aircraft, it entered US Navy service in 1961, as a replacement for the aging P-2V Neptune.

A year later, Orion crews were tracking Soviet targets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then off to Vietnam, to fly coastal patrol during Operation Market Time.

It was at the forefront of the Cold War, working with then classified SOSUS networks to find, indentify, and prosecute Soviet ballistic missile submarines in the Third Battle.

Just hours into the First Gulf War, a classified P-3 variant coded named Outlaw Hunter was overhead. As ordinary as the plane might seem, Orion crews have always been whispered about for their shady ops.

In April 2001 an EP-3E Aries II variant from VQ-1 was on a routine patrol when it was struck by a Chinese J-8 fighter near Hainan Island, creating an international incident. The crew of 24 was captured, questioned, and released after 11 days.

In its twilight years, the Orion has proven itself a key player in the Global War on Terror. It has found pirates, hurricanes, drug smugglers and survivors.

BRAVO ZULU my old friend.
posted by timsteil (31 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
BRAVO ZULU indeed. What a fabulous post about a truly great airplane.

My dad flew P-3's in the US Navy, and got to go to glamorous places like Adak, Alaska and Diego Garcia, Middle of Freakin' Nowhere. I didn't understand until adulthood exactly how serious their game of cat-and-mouse with Soviet missile subs was. Keeping track of those subs neutralized a potent first strike threat, and played an important role in the Cold War "mutually assured destruction" game theory.

My dad's squadron lost a P-3C that in the Bering Sea in the 70's. The incident was chronicled in the book Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586. I remember playing Monopoly with one of the survivors in Okinawa when I was a kid.

Oh, and that Magnetic Anomaly Detector in the tail is pretty amazing for mid-20th-century tech.
posted by richyoung at 12:26 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Great post. If anyone is curious, the P-3 is going to be replaced by the Boeing P-8 Poseidon.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


disclaimer: I'm in the last link.
posted by timsteil at 12:29 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


.
posted by rahnefan at 12:29 PM on December 14, 2011


At an event at Moffett Field, CA two years ago, a veteran guided members of the public through a retired P-3 Orion. He said that when he flew with them in the 1960s off the California coast, they used to drop training charges on any Soviet subs they found. These were not enough to sink them or kill anyone, but they made life very noisy and unpleasant for the submariners.

They were told to drop only one charge at a time, but he said they often taped a couple together to make a bigger bang. His favorite moment was when one of their charges damaged the periscope of a Soviet sub enough so it couldn't dive. The sub had to sail home across the Pacific on the surface, in plain sight.

It's unsettling to think Soviet subs with nukes were lying there off the US coast, waiting for the order to fire. And my hat is off to the Orion crews who tried to find them and keep them away.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:48 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the landing pattern of Moffett Field NAS, and then lived for a number of years in Bermuda so I can say that I've spent roughly half my life being able to look up and see a P-3 flying overhead (or an Electra, back when PSA still flew them out of San Jose). Kind of going to be strange without them around. But to paraphrase John Adams on his deathbed, "... at least the Hercules survives!" /lockheed brat
posted by zomg at 12:53 PM on December 14, 2011


I also grew up in the landing pattern of Moffett Field and now I live near Whidbey Island NAS. That sound is unmistakable.

Related.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:00 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The P-3 Orion was always my secret weapon in the game Harpoon.

Damn right it could carry standoff missiles.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:31 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Aw. I remember playing Harpoon, that must be over 20 years ago, and I always spent more time managing the P-3s than any other forces. It was pretty much the best weapon in the game. Submarine hunter extraordinaire, and the perfect platform for standoff cruise missiles.

On preview: yeah, you and me, CPB.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cost of 1 AGM-84 Standoff missile: $500k.
posted by lalochezia at 1:47 PM on December 14, 2011


Great post. And what Cool Papa Bell and charlie don't surf said.
posted by whuppy at 2:07 PM on December 14, 2011


It's unsettling to think Soviet subs with nukes were lying there off the US coast, waiting for the order to fire.

I don't suggest presuming that this is no longer the case.
posted by rahnefan at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that every year the life's work of Tom Clancy gets a little more out of date.

He should have written stories about B-52s, they'd be current for another 40 years.
posted by COBRA! at 2:36 PM on December 14, 2011


I spent my elementary school years living on Moffett while my dad flew P-3s for the Navy. Great post. I'm going to send him the link.
posted by ctmf at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't suggest presuming that this is no longer the case.

It's Russian submarines now, tovaritch. (And a few Chinese, I guess.)
posted by Skeptic at 2:51 PM on December 14, 2011


It's unsettling to think Soviet subs with nukes were lying there off the US coast, waiting for the order to fire.

It's unsettling to think that there are French subs sitting in the water, waiting for the order to fire on ... well, someone. Who? Don't know. They're French.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2011


It's unsettling to think that there are French subs sitting in the water, waiting for the order to fire on ... well, someone. Who? Don't know. They're French.

Berlin.
posted by atrazine at 3:28 PM on December 14, 2011


How good was the P-3 at antisubmarine warfare, you ask? From Blind Man's Bluff:
. . . [Soviet chief of staff] Akhromeyev was convinced that he could track all of his own subs by simply following the American P-3 Orion sub-hunters in the air. It was a stunning revelation of just how effective U.S. antisubmarine efforts continued to be.
posted by richyoung at 3:28 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, if you haven't already read it, Blind Man's Bluff is a ripping good yarn. Highly recommended.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:52 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I loved Harpoon! That was a great game. Even the computer game was pretty good!
posted by zomg at 3:53 PM on December 14, 2011


Stand down? What on earth are you talking about?? The Orion is still in service, and isn't expected to be retired until 2018!


(silly US-centric posters, I know you have half the world's war budget, doesn't mean there aren't other air forces in the world you know)
posted by wilful at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


wilful, What you folks do with our hand-me-downs in your weird upside down country with it's backwards seasons and deadly spiders is none of our concern. (Just Kidding, I love you guys. You even backed us up in Vietnam when nobody would)
posted by Megafly at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see these guys flying all the time up at Ault Field; I presume Whidbey will be getting the net jet?
posted by maxwelton at 4:49 PM on December 14, 2011


Stand down? What on earth are you talking about?? The Orion is still in service, and isn't expected to be retired until 2018!

Only 2018? Canada will be flying our derivative (the CP-140 Aurora) into the next decade!
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:47 PM on December 14, 2011


Twenty or so years ago I was in the Navy and stationed at NAS Patuxent River in southern MD. Pax is a test center and has many civilians as well as a few military. I was assigned to the calibration lab where I worked with about twenty other people of which about half were civilians. One, Merle, was nearing retirement age and had previously worked on P-3's and then gone on to work on the simulators. He had lots of good stories to tell.

The one I remember in particular was about him demonstrating the simulator to a group of pilots. He would come in for a perfect landing and the audience would watch in a sort of 'and?' way until they realized that he was flying upside down.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:55 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's Russian submarines now, tovaritch. (And a few Chinese, I guess.)

In Mother Metafilter, pedantry put up with you.
posted by rahnefan at 8:17 PM on December 14, 2011


First off, as a P-3 NFO (Naval Flight Officer) I assure you're there are quite a few P-3s that are not stood down... I see one in the pattern now at Kadena ;) Even after 2018 when the P-8 takes over the P-3 mission set, the VQ community will be using the EP-3, and the CBP will also be using the P-3, along with VX-30.

It is an old bird, but still being upgraded though these systems will be in the P-8. Besides the Canadians and Aussies the Japanese have over 100 P-3s that will continue fliying for the foresable future. THey are planning on replacing it with the Kawasaki P-1.

After spending 1200+ hours the CENCOM, SOUTHCOM, and PACOM AOR in the plane, it is a very capable, though aging bird and I will be sad to see it go. In ASW it is up with the best, and with the ASW missiles (Harpoon, Maverick, SLAM-ER) it fills an important part of any naval force.

The two best things from an aircrew side:
-a Jet may be sexier and faster... but they can't take a nap and make a hotpocket!
-launching of a carrier is cool... but while the F-18, E-2, and other TACAIR bubbas are back on the boat, the P-3 crew is living it up in Singapore, Spain, Australia, and others living in a great hotel!
posted by aggienfo at 10:06 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's unsettling to think that there are French subs sitting in the water, waiting for the order to fire on ... well, someone. Who?

The British. Seriously.
posted by Skeptic at 5:20 AM on December 15, 2011


Possibly the least glorious use of a P-3 in its long career was as a drug mule in 1998, when a group of Dutch marines tried to smuggle 155 kg of cocaine from Curaçao to Holland (Dutch link). To add insult to injury, that Dutch P-3 was stationed in Curaçao in anti-smuggling duties...

(And it wasn't even the last time that Dutch naval units stationed in Curaçao for the same reason were themselves involved in drug smuggling!)
posted by Skeptic at 5:35 AM on December 15, 2011


P3's were a constant during my childhood. My father did 20 years in the Navy as an AD, most of the time in a P3 squadron (the rest of the time working on C-9's). Growing up I got to see exciting destinations such as NAS Point Mugu, NAS Pax River (roughly 25 years ago), Andrews AFB, and NAS Jacksonville! I will be forwarding this my father as well.
posted by nulledge at 9:58 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the news.
posted by timsteil at 11:10 AM on December 15, 2011


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