Orion, Intro

This is the introduction to a book I’ve been working on. Don’t look for it anytime soon, but I’ll post parts as i get them finished.




The January night breaks cold and fast along the coast of Maine. When the overcast thins, and the ambient light dims, the heavens are ablaze with frost-burnt suns.  Below them, ice-clad rivers and lakes reflect the moonlight while snow covered fields lap up against the black of human shelter, road and parking lots.

Just outside the small town of Brunswick, and alongside the Androscoggin River, sits Naval Air Station Brunswick. NASB in the parlance of the locals.  In it’s golden time, the base was home to six squadrons of P-3 Orion aircraft, long-range patrol planes whose chief mission was Anti-Submarine Warfare.  They are all gone now, save a lone example, acting sentry to a field of empty space, and a monument to those who left and never came home.

Back in the faraway time, in the longago days, the dark tarmac was lined with aircraft. Modern predators whose prey was a real-live Kraaken, a black-skinned monster with a  belly  filled with nuclear fire, quietly, slowly, drifting in the darkness of abyssal depths,  waiting for it’s master to slip the chains of restraint and unleash unspeakable horror upon the world above.

In those days, the crew of the Orion would arrive while she sat cold and silent, hibernating in the sharp air that crackled whiskers and stung the exposed flesh. The first man up the ladder would open the hatch, and with flashlight in hand move forward to the flight station. Almost always he was the Flight Engineer, and it was his job to awaken the plane. Checking the circuit breakers, and following a short list, he would start the APU, the Auxiliary Power Unit. This is a small jet engine mounted behind and beneath the flight station, which powers generators, and provides pressurized air to start the big Allison engines on each wing. It allows the Orion to operate from virtually any airstrip, with no need of extra equipment.

With the APU up and running, the bird starts to come to life. Lights flicker on throughout the fuselage and heaters begin to warm the internal compartment. Outside, the Pilots are doing  their walk-around inspection, while the Ordnanceman checks the bomb bay and the internal sonobuoy launch system. While he is doing this, the expendable stores cart arrives with the load of sonobuoys, and the AW’s begin to daisy-chain them aboard. At about 28 pounds each, it takes a bit of time and effort to load the 100 or so aboard by hand, and, despite the cold,  sweat begins to form underneath their insulated flight jackets.

As the buoys are being loaded, a fuel truck arrives and one of the crew slips beneath the starboard wing, and unfastens a drop-down panel to expose the fuel management system. He hooks up the fuel line, opens the switches, and monitors the gauges until the tanks are full and balanced. He must be careful not to overpressure the tanks, lest one burst with potentially fatal consequences.  The Orion is a thirsty creature, and she will easily down 30,000 pounds of JP-5 in a single session.

Once the stores and fuel are loaded, the tactical crew begin to preflight their stations. Equipment is energized, checklists followed, and everything determined to be ready before a single engine is started.  Once the preflight checks are done, the crew  gathers together behind the tactical compartment for a final brief. Everyone goes over the mission, the call signs, the area of operation, and reviews all emergency procedures. Nothing is left to chance, everything is reviewed and understood by all. Everyone is held accountable.

When everything that needs to be done is done, then it’s time to go. The ladder is hoisted aboard and locked into it’s stowed position, and the door closed and locked. As the final pieces of gear are stowed, the pilots  start the engines. As the big four-bladed props begin to rotate, the soft whine of the Allison jet engines begins, and increases in pitch. The plane shudders slightly when the jet ignites, and spools to it’s operating speed. From port to starboard, the four engines ignite, and the big blades of the propellers align themselves in pitch.

The crew takes their positions, and pull their helmets on, locking the visors into place. Their harness is strapped on and tightened deeply, and their chairs rotated to face aft and locked. One by one, each check in, identifying their station and readiness, as the big Orion taxis to the runway.  Approaching the active, the interior lights are extinguished, and darkened ship is observed. Finally the plane turns onto the runway and sets the brakes.

When cleared for takeoff, the Flight Engineer advances the Power Levers, and the massive variable-pitch props bite deeply into the cold air, producing a hurricane of turbulence burbling over the wings and headed aft. The Orion shudders, like a steed in the gate, waiting and gathering energy. Finally, the brakes are released and the plane leaps forward, crewmen being pressed back as their bodies try to catch up with the aircraft’s quick acceleration. She hurtles down the hardened tarmac, rumbling through her frame, lift building under her strong gray wings, and then abruptly rises from the earth. The rumbling stills, and a silence, of sorts, settles over the interior of the plane. Pumps hiss, and there is a bum bump… bump. As the landing gear are retracted and locked, their doors closing beneath them.

The Orion is free now, and in her element. She turns slowly out to sea, through the star-lit night, to that place where the monsters lurk and the dark sea rises to swallow the frost-burnt stars. The Kraaken is out there, and the hunt is on.


16 Responses to “Orion, Intro”

  1. April 19, 2010 at 01:50

    I had the extreme pleasure of completing a mission on a P-3 out of Keflavik as a passenger, invited by an old high school friend. I remember flying though the “northern lights” and getting my Blue Nose – I assure you, as I am sure you a very much aware, my nose wasn’t all that was blue – flying above the Arctic Circle for an extended period in the winter time was chilling! 🙂

    • April 19, 2010 at 02:06


      Oh yeah. I was part of a 3-plane det to Keflavik for a 6-week stay. The cold was impressive, even for someone from Maine, but the cross-winds were what got my attention. Feeling the aircraft rotate about 45 degrees into the wind on rotation was a new experience, and one that took a little getting used to. 🙂


  2. 3 SCOTT the BADGER
    April 19, 2010 at 02:13

    I like this so far. When it gets out as a book, I will send you my copy, so you can autograph it. Why did you lock your visors down for takeoff? Just as added protection, in case of a very unseccessful take off?

    • April 19, 2010 at 03:07

      yes… in case of things flying around the inside of the fuselage. For take off and landing, everything was locked or tied down, or stowed in some fashion so as to keep things from coming lose.

  3. 5 mark
    April 19, 2010 at 03:35

    Thanks for your writing and I’m looking forward to the final product. I grew up in a small town about thirty five miles to the Northeast of Brunswick and always felt an attraction to the P-3. As I grew older and learned more about the work you all did, I gained a healthy measure of respect. Thanks for putting my memories into a personal perspective.

  4. 6 John
    April 19, 2010 at 04:27

    Tim- Most interesting, and extremely well written (as with most of your posts)!

    Having brief tangential associations with NASB over the course of my career, and family in Maine, I have heard much about it, but know nearly nothing about the actual aircraft or flight ops.

    During a visit last fall, we saw touch and go ops by one of the few remaining P-3s at that time. The sound of freedom is now silent there. A huge mistake.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. April 20, 2010 at 16:26

    Ah, another blogolist joins the ranks. Inspiried, these many years later by CAPT Lex? I was…

    I have access to avery good author coach in the local area. Will soon be doing some work (again) for her to propagate chapters of those like your self around the nation/world.

    In the mean time, you’re off to a great reading start.

    I’ll take a shot at a phone call to your this weekend to discuss a concept around this writing in the blogsphere thing.

    • April 20, 2010 at 16:50


      You were one of the first I read, and I also made certain you were included in my blogroll. I should be around most of the weekend. if you don’t catch me, just try again. I’ll likely be outside trying to clear up some of the winter’s detritus. 🙂


  6. 9 Bill
    April 21, 2010 at 16:45


    That was a great post! It brought back so many memories that I had to stop for a second and look around for a flight schedule to see if I was on it. One part you left out was the T-56 exhaust back-flowing thru the cabin air dump valve while taxiing. Man, I hated that smell!

    If this was the intro, I can’t wait for the book.


    • April 21, 2010 at 17:07

      Geez, Bill…

      You hit square in the black with the exhaust fumes. I also will take note of the vacuum cleaner and other falderal as it goes on. There are two things that I can recognize anywhere. One is that smell of JP-5 exhaust, and the other is the sound of the Allison T-56. I can hear it anywhere and know what it is, having heard it so long.

      I’ll have more from the book coming up. I’m trying to squeeze in writing with the rest of my daily tasks.


  7. 11 clarkward
    April 22, 2010 at 11:32

    I like it. As others have said, it’s well-written and draws you into the action. There could be a few minor grammatical corrections but I love your style. [Not saying that to be snarky nor a smartypants, just because I respect you and if you’re going to make it into a book, that’d be important. 🙂 ]

    • April 22, 2010 at 14:27

      Oh yeah…. it’s a never-ending thing, editing. What I do is write something, then do an immediate edit. Then I leave it alone for awhile and come back to it. That’s when I find the most glaring errors, and rework it as best i can.

      Don’t worry about being critical, I don’t mind at all.

      Anyway, the next few chapters are outlined, but I have not been spending the time lately that I would like to on them. Hopefully, that will start to open up in May and I can get more done.


      • 13 clarkward
        April 22, 2010 at 16:20

        Tim, when it comes out, I will join Scott the Badger in sending it to you for the autograph 🙂 Looking forward to glimpses of the future chapters when they come!

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