I Got Those Old Beat-Up Orion Blues

It’s not easy for a 1950s propeller airplane with grease smudges to turn heads at an airshow.

The author’s Lockheed P-3C Orion in Hawaii in 2000, with Combat Aircrew One. “You can clearly see the grime and dirt, especially on the nacelle,” he says. (Tracy Wilkinson)
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Our auxiliary power unit kicked in. The pickup from Naval Air Station Dallas showed up and the ground crew piled out. While they and our pilots were pacing off distances around the right wingtip and doing a lot of measuring with their hands, I walked out front wearing my flight helmet and began exterior lighting and flaps checks in coordination with the flight engineer aboard the Orion. An Air Force major with really great hair asked, “So, whatcha doin’, Navy?”

“We’re going home. We have to get the plane back, sir.” I gave hand signals to the cockpit.

“How are you getting out? Do you have a tug coming?”

I told him we intended to use reverse thrust; in essence, we were going to back out of our parking spot. “We do it all the time,” I added.

The crowd was bigger and getting agitated. Checks complete, I met our pilots at the boarding ladder and told them we should get out of here.

We quickly started the engines. With one last look around, we eased the Orion into reverse thrust and started backing up. Wind and dust and empty popcorn bags started flying from everywhere, pelting the Air Force guys, who were now gesturing angrily. The big radome on the AWACS with its tail facing us started to shake wildly, and our propwash made the spoilers on top of the wings all slam open while the whole airplane shuddered. “Just keep going! Don’t stop now!” said Doug. Unperturbed, the ground crew directed us back, making sure we cleared the wing, and signalling a 90-degree backward turn to the right to align us with the taxiway. Just like backing out a big ol’ Winnebago.

We quickly taxied to the runway threshold and received takeoff clearance. The pilots requested a low pass, which was denied; we must have worn out our welcome. We roared down the runway and climbed into the gathering dusk, rocking our wings. We were never invited back to the Fort Worth airshow.

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