So… What’s an AW?

All Navy Rates are represented by letters, usually two, occasionally three. Four are right out, but I digress.  A Botswain’s Mate is listed as “BM”, an Electronics Technician as “ET”, etc.  These letters are followed by either two more letters or a number, depending upon whether the wearer is an E-1 to E-3, or an E-4 to E-6. In my case, I left the Navy as an AW1, which corresponds to an E-6 paygrade. AW, when I was in, stood for “Aviation Anti-Submarine Warfare Operator”.

The AW’s job was (and still is) to monitor and analyze the information garnered by various sensors onboard an aircraft, such as the P-3 Orion, the S-3 Viking, or the SeaHawk helicopter.  In my case, the bulk of my 5K hours of aircrerw time was aboard P-3b and P-3cUpdate II Orions.

The P-3 sensor stations are divided between acoustic and non-acoustic stations. There are two acoustic, and one non-acoustic station. The acoustic stations monitor and analyze the sonar data from sonobuoys, both passive and active (pingers). this data is presented to the operator in both hard-copy, aural, and visual data. It depends upon the system being used, the type of sonobuoy, etc.  The two sensor stations aboard a P-3 Orion can monitor 16 buoys at one time, 8 per station, with 8 displayed visually and the other 8 recorded. The two oprators normally switched the buoys out at 15 minute increments so as not to miss any data. Additionally, there is an audio received at each station where an individual buoy can be monitored through the headset, with a line of bearing generated too.

In my day, the main display for the acoustic stations was part of the AQA-7 System.  It used long rolls of thermal paper to print hard copies of acoustic data, and there is a burnt paper smell that anyone who has ever been around the system will remember. The image below is of the Sensor One and sensor Two stations aboard a P-3 Orion, like I used to operate. Sensor Two is closest to the viewer.

P-3B Mod Sensor 1 & 2 stations AQA-7 V4/5. Image by AW1 (Ret.) Terry Snyder

More to come in the next post.


22 Responses to “So… What’s an AW?”

  1. 1 SCOTT the BADGER
    March 23, 2010 at 00:00

    If you were monitoring 16 sonobouys at a time, you were nailing down a fix, for the kill? Otherwise, I should think you would go through your bouy supply rather fast.

    • March 23, 2010 at 01:50

      Actually, we used a 16-buoy barrier for many ops, although it could and did depend upon a variety of situations: Sea state, type of target, on station time, etc. Using 16 buoys allowed us to cover a wide area, and then we would refine that further with buoy patterns with smaller spacing, finally goin to Active buoys and then MAD and Smoke markers to fix the datum.

      You have to understand that sometimes there might be a couple miles or more between buoys, initially. They have selectable life, depth, etc. I’ll cover buoys in another post down the pike here.

  2. 3 xbradtc
    March 23, 2010 at 00:39

    Keep it coming.

  3. 5 steve osc ret
    March 23, 2010 at 01:01

    Airborne OSs eh?

    • March 23, 2010 at 01:45

      Yup, pretty much. This was before the days of WoW, though… 🙂

      We actually had OS’s assigned to the ASWOC’s. ASW Operation Centers.

  4. March 23, 2010 at 01:44

    Smelly guys who think they are smarter than anyone else and spent half their flight time asleep?

  5. 9 SCOTT the BADGER
    March 23, 2010 at 02:48

    How many buoys does a P-3 carry?

    • March 23, 2010 at 04:03

      Scott, depending upon the model, and the types of buoys, a P-3 carried between 80 and 118 buoys. In the P-3a/b variants, all the buoys were carried in racks internally and dropped through either an unpressurized tube, or through pressurized tubes if at altitude. The P-3c and later variants had buoys carried externally in tubes set into the underside of the fuselage, but also had provision for racks of buoys that could be dropped through both pressurized and unpressurized tubes from inside.

      here’s an image of a sailor loading Sonobuoys into the the external chutes of a P-3c

      The buoays are inside of a sealed plastic overpack. The silver knob on top is a CAD, an explosive gas generatrr that is fired electrically and over-pressures the interior of the overpack. That breaks a seal at the bottom of the overpack, and forces the buoy out and down.

  6. 12 SCOTT the BADGER
    March 23, 2010 at 05:36

    That’s something of an upgrade from the TBMs flying off CVEs way back during WWII. I think they carried 8.

  7. 14 Dave Scott
    March 23, 2010 at 08:40

    The AQA-7 — boy that brings back memories.

    My first posting as a young avionics mech (junior) in the RNZAF was to 5 SQN, which flies P3-Ks, soon to be P3-K2s BUT in ’84 they were P3-Bs .. which had just been updated with the RIGEL fit, but the sonar / acoustics were not touched. It seemed to my young eyes a very novel way to display information. Was always fun testing as part of the dailies.

    Here’s a picture of a RNZAF P3 Tac Rail circa late ’84:


  8. March 23, 2010 at 13:23

    Tim, I spent 9-years in the Navy as an AX (AX1 when I separated), the mechanically inclined brother to the AW. And I am being chartable, we had great fun nagging our AW’s (I was assigned to VS Squadrons flying initially the S-2 but then the S-3). It is hard to imagine the ribbing we gave each other but it was all in fun, when the Jet went airborne I knew it was in the best hands of any Carrier based aircraft simply because we had an enlisted member on board to watch over the three other juvenile crewmembers.
    In the early days of the two ratings AX and AW, were interchangeable because the original pool of talent was out of the AT rating. It did not take long for fresh out of A-School AW’s to set the standard that the AW did the operating and the AX did the fixing. But we did have a couple that crossed that line every now and then; we had a couple that really would have made good technicians. And we had one that was a menace in the aircraft.
    One of the odd things about being in the S-3 community especially when deployed to the Boat, was the treatment that the AW’s received when they sported their Flight Suits. Since most of the flyers on the boat were officers anyone in a flight suit was treated like they were special. I used to rib my AW friends especially in the company of enlisted members of the ship’s crew to kind of rub the point in that the flight suit did not make the man an officer.
    It was all great fun; I’ll have to write a similar post on my site about the AX rating, rekindle that ole rivalry.

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

    • March 23, 2010 at 16:34

      Jimmy, yeah, the AX’s were a great bunch of guys, and it was nice that we had one on our crew as the inflight tech. I was taught all the signal flow in “A” school, and had taken electronics in high school, but he was the one who taught me how to really diagnose a problem and fix it the best and fastest way. Electronics were ALL FM; Frikkin Magic. 🙂

      I look forward to reading your story, shipmate!

  9. 17 virgil xenophon
    March 23, 2010 at 15:14

    Great posts lately, Tim. I left a rather long story about conventional boats at the Chinese sub Topic for you in case you don’t go back and review often. Go SEE.

  10. 19 mark
    March 24, 2010 at 05:28

    Thanks for the information. I’m used to watching the P-3’s fly over -295 and learned to love their abilities while playing Harpoon. You brought the plane and the capibilities home. Looking forward to more.

  11. 20 Curt
    April 24, 2010 at 15:40

    Tim, found your site and find it interesting. I was a SS3 in VP-10 Brunswick, ME, 1978-81. I flew on P-3B and P-3C Updates. Was the NATOPS evaluator in my last year on the Updates. I got out as an AW2. Funny…it’s been almost 30 years, and the memories are still vivid…and am still friends with many of my crew members and fellow AW’s. Oh, the smell of JP5 fumes………. Thanks!

    • April 24, 2010 at 16:29

      Wel Curt!,

      Small world. We knew each other. I was SS-2 on CAC-7 from 77-78, then SS-1 on CAC-10 until ’80. After that I transitioned through VP-30 for the P-3Uii and then to Dam neck for TSC school, then over to the ASWOC at Brunswick till 84.

      I still live over to Bath. You can visit me at my facebook page through the link in the right-hand column. Come say hey! I think there’s a pic of you and your crew in the Bermuda yearbook somewhere in my box of many things.


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