Cold War Era

‘We routinely shut down #1 Engine during long range patrols but once a ship thought we were in distress and alerted the USCG.’ P-3 Orion NFO tells an unusual sea story.

‘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,’ Ross Hall P-3 NFO.

The P-3 Orion is a four-engine turboprop, land-based, long-range, anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft.

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.

‘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.

P-3 Orion engine loiter shutdown

‘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.”’

Hall concludes;

‘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.”’

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

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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 was a P3-A & B Julie/ECM operator In VP-10 NAS Brunswick, Maine in the mid to late sixties. We routinely shut down two engines on patrols and were out 12 to 16 hours. Deployed to Iceland, we had many very interesting Russian interventions. Once, in very heavy cloud conditions, I picked up a large number of radar signals on ECM. We dropped down and came onto a large group of Russian Navy ships, several Bears, Badgers, and fighters exercising in the Artic above Norway. We flew up and down several columns of ships taking pictures along the way. I peered down the lower aft window and there was a Badger below us. We had every possible fire control radar they had locked on us. Made me pucker up a little. Because of the cloud cover, we had to climb to 25,000 before we could report the situation back to Fleet Headquarters. It struck us they could have taken us out without anyone knowing what happened to us. Another day in the Navy!

    • Awesome story Mark! If you have any further detail or additional stories to tell we could write an article quoting you! Thanks a lot and continue to follow us!

  • My father was a radio operator on P3's (I don't remember the exact title). When my great uncle who had served in WW1 died in 1974 , dad took his ashes with him on a routine patrol. He loaded him into a sonobouy canister and spread his ashes somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

Recent Posts

The Israeli F-4E crew that hit an Egyptian Mi-8 with gunfire and then used the afterburner’s thrust to push the helicopter down into the ground

Israeli F-4E crews shooting down very low-flying Egyptian Mi-8 helicopters The American-manufactured F-4 Phantom II was… Read More

21 hours ago

F-15E that shot down a Mi-24 helicopter with 2000lb LGB surpasses 15,000 flight hours during combat mission

Only F-15E with air-to-air kill surpasses 15,000 flight hours A US Air Force (USAF) F-15E… Read More

3 days ago