According to the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) Program, the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft’s is tasked with detection, localization, surveillance, and attack of targets that pose a potential military threat. Each crewmember plays a dynamic part in support of the mission; the P-3 aircraft is intended to be operated as an integrated team effort.
“Each aircrew member plays a part,” said Naval Aircrewman (Operator) First Class Kevin Wilson. “The observer is the eyes of the tube so that the flight station can perform safely.”
NATOPS mandates that there must be a minimum number of four personnel for flight: the pilot, the co-pilot, the flight engineer, and the observer. The observer is an inflight crewmember qualified to perform basic safety-of-flight duties. This includes ensuring the plane gets off the ground safely and while flying may be tasked to watch for potential air collisions in unknown territory, keep an eye on the electrically charged components in the plane and firefight as needed.
“Getting qualified as an observer is difficult,” said Naval Aircrewman (Operator) Third Class Morgan Campbell, from Lowell, Ind., assigned to the ‘Golden Eagles’ of Patrol squadron (VP) 9. “You have an entire year of training in order to meet the observer standards.”
Training includes firefighting and scenario-based emergency procedures.
“You have to know where all the circuit breakers are in the plane and everything depends on how fast you can pull them in case of a real fire in the tube,” said Campbell. “You also have to know what to do in case of a ditch or an emergency landing. Every aircrewman is assigned a task, such as fetching the parachutes or launching the life rafts. I feel confident in my team members that we will work together and get out safely and quickly in case of an emergency because of our training.”