There is a sense of anticipation that runs through each crewman as he waits for takeoff. Once the ladder is pulled up and locked, and the door closed, there is little left for the tactical crew to do but wait. Oh, there are a few small tasks to accomplish. Loose gear is stowed in the head, everything else is tied down, locked, and fittings and fasteners checked and checked again. The last thing anyone needs is for some piece of gear to come loose and go flying down the tube causing all sorts of mischief. Despite the best efforts of fallible humans, it has happened before, and it will happen again, and in almost every case, no good has come from it.
After all is stowed, then there is nothing left to do but take your seat and strap yourself in. Except for the two crew positions behind the flight station, all the other seats are turned to face aft, and are locked in place. Head rests are adjusted, shoulder straps pulled down and locked into the waistbelt quick-release buckle, and everything pulled tight. Helmet cords are plugged into the ICS circuit, so everyone can hear what’s going on, although for those not in the cockpit, there is nothing they can do but listen in. Still, it’s something, and reassuring. Some crewmen fidget with their helmets, adjusting them to fit just so, but it’s often just nervous energy. Others tap fingers on arm rests, or pull on gloves or refasten pocket closures, and all are anxious to get going. The crew and the aircraft are becoming one entity, blending into a single machine no different than a living raptor. In a sense, it is very much alive.
While blood pulses through the men’s veins, and air flows in and out of their lungs, their brains are sending chemically-formed pulses of electricity from brain to muscles to organs and back again. Taking in information, processing it, and sending it to where it needs to go, asking for input, giving commands, and all the time awake and aware. So too, the aircraft. JP-5 flows under pressure from the tanks in the wings, or the centerline of the fuselage, to the powerful Allison T-56 Jet Englines. Hydraulic fluid moves to and fro, according to commands from the flight station, while electrical signals flow through a spider’s web of wiring networks, as complex as the nervous system of it’s human masters. Like the men’s eyes and nerves, the aircraft “sees” with it’s radar, feels with it’s air pressure and airspeed sensors. Everything works to a common task: To take flight, and hunt the monsters that lurk beneath the waves.
Once the aircraft turns off the taxi way and onto the active runway, crouching over the white-painted numbers, she pauses, like a great bird on the edge of it’s nest. To the crew in back, it’s a moment to collect their thoughts, and almost to a man they are thinking “let’s do this, let’s get going!”. In the flight station, the pilots get their last communication from the tower. Which heading to turn to after takeoff, what altitude to climb to. What frequency to change the radios to contact departure when airborne. Last minute snippets of conversation as the Orion prepares to leave.
:Lined up on the centerline, ready for takeoff, the Patrol Plane Commander, or PPC as he’s called in the vernacular of the trade, will call for full power, while he sets the brakes. The Flight Engineer, sitting between and slightly behind the two pilots. leans forward a bit, and advances the power levers to the indicated level. The Orion doesn’t have throttles. Rather, her Turbo-Prop engines run at a constant speed for maximum efficiency. Her big four-bladed propellers have gears that let them vary the pitch with which they bite into the air. Where a commercial jet airliner, or a fighter needs a second or two to spool up to the new power settings, the P-3’s props move their angle of attack and simply bite deeper into the air. Acceleration is instantaneous. It is an asset often exploited by the crew, and makes the Orion much more nimble and deadly than it’s appearance would have you believe.
With the power levers forward, and the brakes set, the Orion shudders through her frame. Rattles and vibrations run up and down the fuselage as the big bird generates and stores energy, ready to leap forward like a runner leaping from the chocks when the starting gun is fired. At long last, there’s a click in the headset, and each man hears the PPC say “Okay everyone, here we go”, the brakes are released, and the plane leaps forward, She has a great deal of energy built up, and the blades bite deeply into the air. Faster and faster she rolls down the runway, the pilot keeping close watch so that she stays on the white centerline marker, while the flight engineer keeps his eyes on the engine instruments, monitoring them for temperature, oil pressure, anything that might seem out of place. The co-pilot, or 2P, monitors the speed, letting the pilot know when sufficient velocity is generated for takeoff, when the plane has passed the safe ground abort point, etc.
Finally, the rattling, thumping and noise reach a crescendo, and when the aircraft reaches it’s proper speed, with sufficient lift under her wings, the PPC pulls back on the controls, and the Orion lifts into the air. The transition is audible. Most of the noise stops, to be replaced with the ambient whine of electrical noise, of cooling fans and 60-hertz powered equipment. Outside, the deep sound of the propellers and jet engines seeps through into the aircraft as a sort of white noise, present, but not too loud. Always there, but never intrusive. After a few seconds, there’s an audible “bump bump…..bump” as the landing gear cycles up into it’s wells, and the gear bay doors close and lock in place. The Orion banks to it’s assigned heading, and continues to climb.
A minute or two after takeoff, the PPC comes back on th ICS and says “set condition 2”. Although everything may seem normal, it’s always good to make certain. The Sensor Two operator will release his harness and walk carefully to the back of the fuselage, keeping one hand on the overhead rail, or on some piece of gear in case of turbulence. He opens equipment bay doors, hatches, and checks to see that nothing has come lose, their are no “arcs or sparks”. AS he passes the crew positions, he gets a thumbs up from them, indicating everything looks good to them. Only after he has done this walk-through, does he call the flight station and inform them that “condition 2 is set”.
The plane continues to climb heading up to it’s altitude for transit to the operating area assigned with this mission. After condition 2 is set, the PPC tells the crew to “set condition 3”. With this command, the crew is released from their positions and can undo their safety straps, remove their helmets, and move about the aircraft. The tactical crew sets about bringing their equipment online. The Navigator brings his charts up to date, and checks his instruments and the Loran-C system which all help to locate the aircraft’s position. Even in the modern age, the Navigator still keeps hard copy charts as a back up, and extra set of data for debriefing afterward. The AW’s, the Sensor Operators, power up their gear and go through a fixed series of checks to make certain everything is still working properly. The crew has an InFlight Technician onboard, and there is still time to attempt repairs if anything fails prior to arriving on station. The Sensor 3 operates the radar and other non-acoustic systems. He will use his radar to keep the flight crew and Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) aware of any surface contacts below, and can also assist the Navigator by confirming land masses.
Once Condition 3 checks are done, then it’s time to rest and wait through the transit to the on-station point. On many missions, this can be a two-hour transit. The ocean is wide and deep, with many places for prey to hide, to patiently wait for the orders to strike. Even with it’s good speed, the Orion still takes time to transit the long distances involved. High above the cold waters, in the frosty atmosphere, the Orion drones on, and her crew inside will attempt to rest. For the Tactical Crew, the onstation time may be an 8-hour shift, and they will need to be fully awake and alert when their time comes.
Beneath the waves, in the cold darkness below the thermocline, the Kraaken swims. A monster of immense size, with weapons almost unimaginable in their destructive power, she will look to remain hidden from the Orion, to silently keep her station, and await her master’s orders. Tonight both hunter and prey will be tested in a game of great importance, not just for the two combatants, but for the world itself.