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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.