E-mail from the USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81)

You might have seen or heard about this one, thanks to Helmut Linghor for placing this in the newsletter for the Cannstatter, a American-German ethnic organization dedicated to promoting good works in our local community.  Germans have stood fast with our country during this time, in fact German special forces were among those first deployed on the ground north of Afghanistan in support of US forces in the area (they have equipment to detect biological and chemical weapons).

This is an e-mail from a young ensign aboard the USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81) to his parents.  The Churchill is an Arleigh Burke class AEGIS guided missile destroyer, commissioned March 10, 2001, and is the only active US Navy warship named after a foreign national.

Dear Dad,

We are still at sea.  The remainder of our port visits have all been cancelled.  We have spend every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of it.  We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening.  Being isolated, I don't think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects.

About two hours ago, we were hailed by a German Navy destroyer, Lutjens, requesting permission to pass close by our port side.  Strange, since we're in the middle of an empty ocean, but the captain acquiesced and we prepared to render them honors from our bridgewing.  As they were making their approach, our conning officer used binoculars and announced that Lutjens was flying not the German, but the American flag.  As she came alongside us, we saw the American flag flying half-mast and her entire crew topside standing at silent, rigid attention in their dress uniforms.  They had made a sign that was displayed on her side that read "We Stand By You."  There was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and saluted.  It was the most powerful thing I have seen in my life.  The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks.  It's amazing to think that only half-century ago things were quite different.

One of our relatives, Mike, flies in an P-3 Orion, he sent me this email

This is a story of one of my flights from my recent Squadron Detachment to El Salvador. One of the pilots submitted this to "Approach" magazine. 

A Naval magazine that reports aviation mishaps and there stories so other military Aviators can benefit from them and possibly learn from them.

Driving a Classic

By LCDR Rick Golbitz

When you drive a classic you expect a few minor mechanical problems, but hey, it’s a classic right? 

It was pretty much business as usual having just kicked off our Caribbean detachment. The weather was hot, the mission was all too familiar and our vintage 1970’s Lockheed P-3 Orion had already shot the #2 turbine in an impressive (even by P-3 standards) display of spewing oil and smoke. That was our first mission and, as it turned out, the first three-engine landing of our detachment. A talented team of maintainers replaced the bad turbine in minimal time and we were able to reposition the aircraft the next day as scheduled. Following an uneventful 5-hour transit we put the plane to bed and went off to prepare for our next mission. 

Pre-flight was at o-dark thirty, the country was new but the weather, mission, and aircraft were anything but. We took off on time and made the 800-mile transit to our on-station point. After some fuel calculations we decided to loiter the #1 engine to extend our on-station performance. We calculated our bingo fuel based on a three-engine max range transit at 10,000 feet, assuming a worst-case scenario of losing an engine and being unable to maintain pressurization. After the number crunching we set 23K as bingo and settled down into the mission. We were at 500 feet, 250 knots max range with about one hour of on-station fuel remaining when the fun began. “CHIPS light #3” the flight engineer called. Immediately the PPC, flying in the left seat initiated a climb. I scanned the engine instruments looking for secondary indications of impending engine failure, saw none and instructed the FE to restart the #1 engine. With the #1 engine coming back to life we turned our attentions back to the #3 engine. As we did there was an audible over speed sound accompanied by a loss of indicated shaft horsepower on #3. We initially thought that the engine had decoupled but none of the other instruments indicated this. I took a quick look at the #3 prop, saw it was dry, and with no other indications of a propeller malfunction, I called for the #3 E-handle. Relieved that the propeller went to full feather, we completed the Emergency Shutdown Checklist on #3 and In-flight Restart Checklist on #1. Chips Light to completion of the Restart Checklist took less than 2 minutes. 

As we sat basking in the afterglow and complimenting each other on our NATOPS and ACT knowledge we quickly realized that something was wrong. There were too many enunciator lights on. In addition to all of the normal lights, the #3 FILTER light was also illuminated. In a harmony that would have made the Beach Boys proud all five of us in the flight station said, “That’s weird, why is that on?” With our Skipper (PPC) an Instructor pilot with 4000 hours in P-3’s sitting in the left seat, the CNARF NATOPS alternate Pilot Evaluator, with over 2000 hours, in the right seat, the primary Pilot Evaluator, with over 3000 hours looking over the Skipper’s shoulder, and the CNARF NATOPS FE Evaluator looking over the junior FE’s shoulder, I had felt pretty confident that there was little that our vintage Orion could throw our way that we couldn’t handle. That was before take-off. Now all five of us sat dumbfounded by that one little light. Before we could determine why it was on we had to handle what it meant to us now. The light comes on when one or both of the low-pressure fuel filters on the engine become clogged and fuel is bypassed around the filters. For P-3 crews this generally means that the fuel from that engine’s tank is contaminated and should not be used. Our new problem became the 6.6K of essentially trapped fuel in the #3 tank. The fuel was still available but using it might adversely affect the other engines. Instead of the 27K that we thought we had, we now had just over 20K, nearly 3,000 lbs. below our bingo fuel! Time to crunch our fuel numbers again and op-check our sweat pumps.

Pumps worked 4.0 but we still felt like we were missing something. It wasn’t until we tried to figure out what might have brought on the FILTER light that it became obvious. This plane is unlike the P-3’s that we normally fly in that it is equipped with a survivability modification. Included in that mod is flame suppressant foam in the fuel tanks. This foam has been known to deteriorate and bring on the FILTER light. No problem except with the foam installed, you actually have 5 percent less fuel than what the fuel totalizer indicates. In our case that was another 1300 lbs. of fuel that we didn’t have. Now with just over 19K of useable fuel, 4K below bingo and 800 miles from the nearest suitable alternate the pucker factor became huge. We figured Max Range airspeed and climbed to our best 3-engine cruise altitude. 

Time to crunch more numbers, look at more charts, and start asking all the “What if” questions. What if we encounter bad weather? What if we are short on fuel? Will we use the fuel in tank 3 and if so when? And the biggest what if of all, what if we lose another engine? Time for the flight engineers to work their chart magic and answer the $64,000 question, “Would we make home plate with our fuel remaining, on only two engines?” Now using our new worst-case scenario, an 800-mile, two-engine transit, unable to maintain pressurization, at 10,000ft, the FEs determined that it would take approximately 12K of fuel to get back home. Doing some quick math I realized that we would land with approximately 7.5K of useable fuel without having to use the 6.6K of questionable fuel in tank #3. Not a lot of fuel for a P-3 but we wouldn’t be swimming today. I stopped my mental inventory of my SV-2 and noticed that the collective stress level in the flight station had diminished significantly as we all reached the same conclusion. 

We spent the next three hours monitoring engine performance, fine tuning fuel logs, and watching the miles wind down on the GPS. We made an uneventful three-engine landing (# 2 of 3 for those of you keeping score at home) acutely aware that we dodged a lot of the “What ifs”.

Two days later, following the replacement of the #3 engine and several fuel system components the plane was readied for high power engine turns. Prior to starting the APU, as the flight engineer manually rotated the #2 propeller, he heard what he described as a “box of rocks” (an industry term), aurally confirming yet another problem. The #2 turbine was completely shot…again! We had no indication of a pending turbine failure during flight, nor on post-flight, most probably due to the APU noise. If we had lost the #2 turbine in-flight we would have been right in the middle of our new “worst case scenario”. Following the replacement on the #2 engine our “Classic” Orion successfully completed a post maintenance check flight and was returned to service.

There were several lessons learned from this flight, some new, some not so new, but all equally important. First, strong NATOPS knowledge and timely execution of emergency procedures is essential when it starts to hit the fan. Each crewmember knew their job and did it immediately. Second, always plan for your worst-case scenario, even if it keeps changing on you and continuously revise your plan as necessary. Third, no matter how much experience you or your crew has, you still haven’t seen it all. Do not allow yourself to become complacent or over confident. With over 15,000 hours of P-3 experience in the flight station, the mighty Orion still managed to throw us a curve ball. And finally, effective ACT/CRM is the difference between hitting that curve ball and striking out. In the P-3 community we live and die by CRM. With a three-man flight crew and a twelve man tactical crew it is the secret to our success. Each member of our flight station, including the off duty Pilot and Flight Engineer worked together, communicated ideas, provided feedback, and operated freely within the CRM friendly environment that pervades our community. Because of this we were able to effectively handle a complex emergency, with countless variables, and safely return one vintage P-3 and fourteen aircrew to dry land.

The shot number 2 turbine left us with one last lesson; when you drive a classic being lucky is at least as important as being good!

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