Cold War Era

P-3 NFO tells the story of when his Orion had to flew a 13 hours anti-submarine patrol and shut down 2 engines because the P-3 due to relieve his aircraft had been delayed

The P-3 Orion

Far from sight of land, skimming over rough seas whose depth and darkness hide a possibly hostile submarine, ten men concentrate on instrument panels, scopes and detection devices as their P-3 Orion flies an ASW search pattern. The P-3 is from a long line of Navy patrol planes. It is powered by four constant-speed turboprop engines, swinging 13 1/2-foot paddle-blade propellers. For sea-level ASW work, two engines may be shut down to achieve increased time on station.

To conserve fuel during its long-range patrols over land and sea, the P-3 can operate with one of its four engines shut down. This allows for extended missions lasting over ten hours. The number one engine, or furthest from the fuselage on the port side, is the engine that is shut down. This action also reduces engine smoke, allowing for better surveillance viewing from the port aft window.

Ross Hall, former Naval Flight Officer (NFO) on P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, remembers on Quora.

‘Operating out of Iceland, our P-3 was tracking a Soviet submarine in the Norwegian Sea. We already had engine #1 loitered, which was standard procedure during our nine-hour flight. We were operating in EMCON (emissions control), so were not transmitting. Our P-3 was, however, monitoring the regular broadcast from our base, which informed us that our sister aircraft, due to relieve us on station, had been delayed. “Extend on station as long as practical” was our new order.

P-3 Orion engine loiter shutdown

P-3 shuts down 2 engines

‘“Loiter number four”, and we shut down our second engine.

‘Our aircraft shuddered, as we settled into a low-speed, high angle of attack loiter. We ended up extending our time on station by almost four hours until the relief airplane arrived. Total flight time almost thirteen hours!

‘Occasionally, the hours of boredom are punctuated by sheer terror, or occasionally by sheer bliss – I recall many occasions where fantastic events unfolded in front of my eyes: aurora borealis; adiabatic winds over a glacier; mountainous seas crashing over the flight deck of an aircraft carrier; exotic ports of call; the suicide of a friend and colleague; watching a fading tropical thunderstorm in a drunken haze.’

Hall concludes;

‘Looking back, I am most amazed at the profound responsibilities our nation lays at the hands of young, inexperienced people, and how they rise to the challenges presented to them. I consider myself very fortunate.’

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. P-3C Orion VP-40 Fighting Marlins, QE733 / 161733 / 1991
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • I am assuming that his "hours of boredom are punctuated by sheer terror, or occasionally by sheer bliss" were during his entire Navy career and not on that flight! Hell of a 13 hours otherwise.

  • 13hrs.. hardly a record. I flew the Aurora, a much improved P3 in the 80s. We would task/plan for 12hrs and often fly 14 tracking soviet SSBNs. I did one flight well over 16hrs ... that's endurance!

  • I believe the RNZAF often did routine endurance up to 15hrs in the P-3K2 and even hold a record of 21hrs30min back in 1972. We've only just retired them in January 2023 as they had been service since 1966.

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