Cold War Era

The story of the US Navy P-3 pilot who was able to land his Orion with two engines out on the same wing

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.

Engine shutdown

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.

Nevertheless, issues with engine restart after a shutdown could be experienced as proved by the story of LCDR R.E. Ericson a P-3 pilot attached to VP-11. The story appeared on April 1973 issue of Approach Magazine.

After completing a night reconnaissance patrol off Vietnam, LCDR Ericson, a veteran patrol pilot with over 4500 hours flying experience, initiated restart of his No. 1 engine which had been loitered for fuel conservation while on station. After lightoff, the engine accelerated to about 70 percent, began to fluctuate between 60 and 70 percent, and then appeared to have stagnated.

P-3 Orion engine loiter shutdown

LCDR Ericson elected to feather the propeller and secure the engine using the E-handle. A subsequent attempt to restart the No. 1 engine yielded the same results and was again terminated by pulling the E-handle. At this point, LCDR Ericson declared an emergency and headed for NAS Cubi Point, where VP-11 was deployed. Shortly after leveling at 21,000 feet, the firewarning horn and light for No. 2 engine came on. The crew immediately secured No. 2 and completed the emergency shutdown checklist.

P-3 Orion two-engine landing

LCDR Ericson called for maximum power on engines three and four. He was able to check his descent and level off at 10,000 feet. At this point, he decided to divert to U-Tapao, Thailand — much closer than Cubi. But he was not home free yet. The weather at U-Tapao, while better than that at Cubi Point, was still such that an actual GCA would he required.

Things went well until the final controller called for a right turn to final for runway 36. With full right aileron, full right rudder, and 1500 horsepower on engines three and four, the Orion would not turn right. Finally, LCDR Ericson turned the aircraft by momentarily coming back to 500 horsepower on the engines, then reapplying power to maintain his glide slope. At 500 feet, the aircraft broke clear of the clouds, and an uneventful, night, two-engine landing was made.

LCDR Ericson and his crew, by their professional ability and exemplary performance, successfully coped with a difficult emergency situation, thereby saving a valuable aircraft and its crew.

Well done!

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

Photo credit: Balon Greyjoy Own work via Wikipedia

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.

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