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P-3 Orion: The Submarine Hunter

There was one airplane that loomed larger than others in my childhood: the Lockheed P-3 Orion, the submarine hunter. I loved this plane more than the supersonic jets like the F-4 Phantom or the F-14 Tomcat.

The four turboprop patrol plane would pass by my bedroom window on it’s final approach the Navy Base, Moffett Field. The roar of the four props where as recognizable to me as the call of the scrub-jays. I could identify the P-3 in flight as readily as a soaring turkey vulture.

I wanted to make another sketch of my past and bolstered by my sketching experience at the Castle Air Museum, I wanted to find an example of a P-3 on static display because sketching large unmoving objects makes sketching a bit easier. Much easier.

After doing a little research and reconnoissance through Google Earth, I found my subject near the control tower for what is now known as Moffett Federal Airfield. It was a P-3 Alpha or P-3A for short. Now it was time to sketch it.

Parts of the former Naval base are now open to the public so on a Saturday morning, Grasshopper and I ventured forth with our sketching bags to put the P-3 Orion into our sketchbooks.

While we were at Moffett we also visited the excellent Moffett Field Historical Society Museum which covers all the stages of this former base, from the USS Macon to NASA.

A P-3 flight simulator in the parking lot of the Moffett Field Historical Society Museum.

After visiting the museum we walked south, past the enormous Hangar 1, to the patrol plane, set up our sketching chairs and began to sketch.

The Lockheed P-3 Orion was an extremely successful marine patrol airplane which made it’s way upon the world’s stage in October 1962 as it buzzed two ships bound for Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was designed to be used for marine patrol, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare. The P-3 joins the list of aircraft which includes: Boeing’s B-52 and KC-135, and Lockheed’s C-130 and U-2 which have been in service for over 50 years.

Moffett Field was home to squadrons of P-3s which patrolled the Pacific Coast, on the look out for Russian submarines. In honor of this workhorse, one P-3 was put on public display. This was the plane now sat in front of me as I began to sketch.

The airplane before me was a P-3A BuNo. 150509. It had a long career serving as a training aircraft and served in many squadrons. She flew 9,914 flying hours and was retired after a 29 year career, where she was the last Alpha in service. This is much more efficient and economical than the Navy’s dirigibles or blimps.

I did three sketches of the P-3A. One head on and two detail sketches of the front and tail of the plane. The distinctive “stinger” tail of the the P-3 houses the Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) boom which detects submarines under the water.

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Big Sound on the Big Island: Coqui Frogs

While the Coqui frog is lionized in its native Puerto Rico as the unofficial National animal, the diminutive frog is the scourge of the Hawaiian Islands!

There are 16 species of Coqui frogs whose common name is onomatopoeically named for their loud mating calls: “Ko-kee”. This small tree frog is about the size of a penny (15-80 mm). But they have a very big voice.

Their calls can reach 100 decibels. To put that in some context, that’s louder than most power tools, dishwashers, food blenders, or a diesel locomotive from 100 feet away. And their calls are slightly less louder than your average rock concert.

On the Hawaiian Islands this frog is an invasive species. It was unintentionally introduced in the late 1980s through imported nursery plants. The frog competes with native species for food (mainly insects) and they have no natural predators (the Indian mongoose does not climb trees) so in some parts of the islands they have reached levels of 2,000 frogs per acre!

The Coqui frog, along with the common myna, finds itself on the IUCN’s list of the 100 of the World’s Worst invasive Alien Species. While they are harmful to native wildlife, they are they harbingers of many a sleepless night.

On the Kona side I had no problems with Coquis and it wasn’t until I was on the windward side and specifically the town of Hilo where I encountered their dubious reputation.

And they are notorious around the Dolphin Bay Hotel. This Hilo mainstay is a wonderful family run hotel just across the Waikuku River from the historic downtown. The staff are friendly and informative and the rooms are a pleasant throwback to another era (it was built in 1968).

But what is not so pleasant is the incessant chorus of frogs from dusk to dawn. Shutting all the windows and blasting the fan can’t completely cover the frogs! So I used one of the traveler’s best tools: earplugs.

The Dolphin Bay Hotel provides complementary earplugs.
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Rainy Day Hilo Sketching

While I was in Hilo, it never stopped raining.

This side of the Big Island averages 130 inches per year. Rain and watercolor field sketching don’t always go hand in hand. So many of the subjects that I wanted to sketch where not going to happen.

I headed to Wailoa River State Recreation Area to do some field sketching of Hawaii’s state bird, the nene or Hawaiian goose. Geese don’t mind the rain and that they had recently been reported in this park.

When I got there I immediately spotted nene, grazing on grass near the water. Trouble was that water was coming from above, which would make sketching in the open a really task.

I attempted to sketch but the pursuit was given a rain delay. Here, in front of me was a great opportunity to sketch an iconic Hawaiian endemic but the weather was not on my side. I attempted to sketch until the cover of a large tree but raindrops still fell on my sketchbook. So I retreated to my rental car, also know as my sketching blind.

The flock of nene wandered close to the parking lot, grazing on grass so I was able to get a series of sketches in, despite the rain.

Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.

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Black Noddys

While I got a lot of my target species on the Kona pelagic, I had not added any noddys to my list, either black or brown.

One of the the most beautiful drives I experienced on Hawaii was in Volcanoes National Park along Chain of Craters Road.

It starts off just near the Visitor’s Center in the heart of the park which seems like it’s stuck in a perpetual rain cloud. Indeed the rain forests that flank the road are lush and something out of the Jurassic Period. One expects a T. Rex to cross the road at any moment.

After a few miles heading downslope towards the Pacific, you cross the alien barrens of lava flows.

This 1973 lava flow covered the Chain of Craters Road. The Hawaiian goose or nene can be seen here. When I saw one, I made sure I didn’t feed it.

You eventually wind down via a few hairpin turns, altered by lava until you can see the Pacific Ocean, about 40 minutes drive from the Visitor’s Center. When it gets close to the ocean, the road parallels the lava cliffs. Within a mile I would run out of road as the lava flows reclaimed the road and closed it for the foreseeable future.

Off to my right and with the naked eye, I spotted black birds skirting above the waves. This could be only one bird: Noio or the Hawaiian black noddy.

I stopped the car and walked to the edge of the cliff to get a better look at the birds through binoculars. The bird’s scientific and common name comes from the noddy’s lack of fear around humans, making them easy to catch. The genus Anous, comes from the Greek, meaning silly, without understanding, and mindless. In English a noddy is a fool or simpleton. It is certainly not easy to catch a good photograph of the noddys as they strafed the waters and disappeared around (or into) cliffs. They are sea cliff nesters and I enjoyed my time with them as they flew to the lava cliffs and foraged in flocks, on the Pacific waters.

A black noddy, photographed from shore.
Two noddys flying from the lava cliffs where they nest.