Spinning the Lockheed P-3C Orion

P-3C pic 4.jpg

Every once in a while things happen in aircraft that you simply couldn’t make up. This email, currently doing the rounds, appears to be authentic and the pix below back it up.

Pilots may feel that there is a certain step in the sequence of events which may have been, how can I put this, more optimally executed.

Kudos to Lockheed for building them to last.

Full story below….

Tuesday,22 Jul 2008, a P-3 Orion from VP-1 was flying an approach to NASWhidbey Island with the #1 engine in a simulated failure mode. At 160KIAS, the #2 engine started to surge, so they had to chop power to it.As all this was happening, they were still decelerating, so by the timethey added power to #3 and #4, they were at 122 knots, and in the dryterms of investigators, “departed controlled flight.” The P-3 did FIVErotations in a flat spin, dropping 5500 feet, finally recoveringbetween 50 and 200 feet AGL (above ground level), pulling a whopping 7positive G’s on the airframe after sustaining 2.4 negative G’s in thespin. The rolling pullout burst 45 rivets on one wing, physicallyRIPPED the main spar, and bent the entire airframe… the crew could seeINSIDE the fuel tanks of the wing.

The P-3C that almost went into Puget Sound waterswas from NAS Whidbey. It was a CPW-10 aircraft being operated by VP-1.Squadrons don’t own aircraft any more. The P-3 fleet has sodeteriorated because of under-funding and over-use that there are lessthan 100 still flyable*. The P-3s belong to the wing and are “lent tothe squadrons on an as-needed” basis.

The mission was aNATOPS pilot check, with a CPW-10 pilot (LT) aboard, a VP-1 LT andLTJG, plus VP-1 aircrewmen that included two flight engineers. The birdwas landed back at NASW. Max damage was sustained by the aircraft,including almost tearing off a wing. Aircraft BuNo 161331.

At Whidbey, P-3C 161331 was doing a Functional Check Flight. They could see the inside of the fuel tanks when they landed. SDRSrecorded the flaps being raised and the landing gear being cycled downand then back up. Aircraft released all the fuel in tank #3 when itappears that the seam between planks 3 and 4 split. Tank #4 also lostits fuel load when plank #1 separated from rest of the aircraft wing.

Wing panel

P-3 pic 1.JPG
























MAD boom


P-3 pic 2.JPG

























Wing spar


P-3 pic 3.JPG





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12 Responses to Spinning the Lockheed P-3C Orion

  1. Chalete September 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    I have logged all of 95 (100 minus 5) hours on a C-152 but still I have the temerity to volunteer why the experienced Navy crew did not seem to have added full power to No. 1 engine when No. 2 surged, after all the momentum of those big propellers is so great that when a C-130 takes off the only engines pushed to max power are Nos. 2 and 3 until the aircraft reaches I guess 100 KIA or so then Nos. 1 and 2 are pushed to the wall. This procedure was adopted after a number of accidents when one of the outboard engines lost power the aircraft veered violently towards the dead engine. I would assume that the same procedure applies to the P-3 an otherwise wonderful workhorse of almost 50 years of faithful operation thanks to the excellent crews that fly and maintain them in spite of inadequate funding for spares.

  2. Jim Tyson September 24, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    This event may be true but I have sincere doubt as to its accuracy. For two years I served as a Navy test pilot on the first P-3s. My logbook records P3V-1 hours as well as P-3A time. With #1 & #2 engines at zero thrust, I investigated stall characteristics; they were NOT friendly to say the least. The first time, during Navy Preliminary Evaluation #1, I lost 4,000 ft during recovery, the stall occuring at 92kt IAS at 10,000 ft. The entire crew was astounded, so we tried it again with similar results. Some of the notes in the NATOPS instructions stem from our investigations then and later at Patuxent River. The damage to the airplane cannot be disputed. I suggest it was sustained in some other activity — perhaps the crew simply lost memory of something else during the flight — maybe “let’s roll this thing”?

    The story is good, though.

  3. Plant A1, BUR (Now a parking lot) September 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    100 P3s left in the air
    100 P3s
    Spin one down,
    Now it’s “on ground”
    99 P3s left in the air.

    99 P3s left in the air
    99 P3s.

    Sad…
    Good recovery and God bless the pilots, but sad.

  4. SSHAH September 25, 2010 at 4:34 am #

    The Lockheed Electra 188 was suspected of having a structural problem when first developed. The Chief Test Pilot for Lockheed, Herman “Fish” Salmon was assigned the duty to test fly the a/c and find out what the limits were. He had a door installed for both the Captain and F/O and wore parachutes.
    The result was Harmonic tip imbalance from the propeller tips.
    The attitudes of flight that Mr. Salmon put the a/c through were conclusive of the structural dependability as witnessed by this crew.
    I knew him and his son Scooter personally and he never thought that Lockheed built a compromised airplane.

  5. Anymouse September 25, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    From near first hand knowledge (I am a P3 pilot in Jacksonville), the story is almost correct with the exception of the beginning. As per the flight instructor guide book (FIG), there shall be no engines shut down duirng an approach. The number one engine was actually completely shut down for a simulated emergency over the working area, not on approach. The other engine then failed and was shut down for emergency, resulting in two engines out on the same side (#1 and #2). The instructor pilot took the controls, and while dealing with the emergency, he allowed the aircraft to slow to below VMC (which is based among other thing, on # and position of operating engines) while incorrectly not immediately restarting the engine shutdown for training (big mistake #1). When he realized the aircraft was well below optimal speed, instead of dropping the nose to add airspeed, he threw power on the remaining engines (big mistake #2), hence- departed controlled flight.

    My memory gets a bit hazy here, but I believe that during the decent, the flight engineer was able to restart the #1 engine, after which, the instructor was able to regain control, but only after pulling masive Gs (massive for the P3 anyway).

    You can fault the flight instructor for making some big mistakes, and ultimately destroying a P3. However, the fact that he ultimately saved the aircraft and crew aboard took some strong arms and a lot of training and ability. Not to mention, it is probably the work of the flight engineer that allowed the aircraft to be restored to controled flight at all.

    • IBNFE2 September 13, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      I concur with all said by Anymouse. I was an FE attached to VP-1 at the time of this incident. I know the FE, and the crew. The P-3 community dodged a bullet, after our complacency almost got the best of us. We have been operating with an outstanding safety record for so long, I am thankful for my brother FE for doing his part to save the day and live to fly again.

    • Emmett Crocker September 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

      I was involved in a similar incident in vp22 1976 off Guam. At 6000 ft we were doing a vmc(air) demo ( incorrectly). We slowed the ac to ditching speed, stall +10kts, then with 1 & 2 @ flight idle, added pwr on 3 & 4 as the student pilot was trying to maintain heading and altitude with full aileron and rudder the ball pegged left approaching max pwr on 3&4 the left wing stalled. We rolled inverted the nose dropped 90*. Cdr Mike Huges the instructor pilot took control of the ac pulled 3&4 back to flight idle and was able to regain control of the a/c and stop the decent @ about 700ft. I think we pulled around 4 to 5 Gs the aircraft was not damaged but my flight suit was soiled.

  6. Ed Kay September 25, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Power agrevates spins. Aft center of gravity will induce “flat” spin.

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