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.
‘Training mission out of Jax [Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida] (somebody has to train the newbies). Transit out to the Op Area; informed ATC (local civilian air traffic controller) that we were transitioning into the military operational area (MOA) and assuming responsibility for our own safety of flight. Since we intended operating at low level (generally below 1,000 feet), we did not expect to have radio contact with the controllers.
‘WE SHUT DOWN OUR #1 ENGINE TO CONSERVE FUEL. This is a standard practice with the P-3. We always shut down #1, as it is the only engine that doesn’t have an electric generator.
‘That day, our mission was to conduct low-level training – primarily low-level photo passes of shipping (we referred to this as “rigging” a ship). Normal procedure is to fly down the port side of the ship at 200 feet; execute a 270 degree turn; fly past the stern of the ship; fly down the starboard side; then climb to 1,000 feet and fly directly over the ship.
‘We were a little rusty (darn newbies), and had to practice this maneuver several times past one merchant ship.
‘After we finished the training portion of our mission, we climbed to re-establish radio comms with ATC, and commence our transit back to base.
‘“P-3 XXX; do you want to declare an emergency?”
‘WTF !!! ???
‘“ATC, say again.”
‘“P-3 XXX. Do you want to declare an emergency? A merchant ship contacted the Coast Guard to report a P-3 in distress, with an engine out, trying to get their attention.”’
‘After stifling our laughter, we notified ATC that we were fine, and proceeding back to base.
‘“Please notify the merchant that we appreciate his concern, and assistance no longer required.”’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
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