Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Long Goodbye

If you've flown into or out of the Oakland Airport's North Field in the last 8 years or so, you're probably familiar with the old, drab green Navy P3 Orion that sat parked for many years just off Taxiway Quebec. It was there for many years and there was a time I taxied past it most every day. I only remember seeing it move under its own power once and that was over 6 years ago. There used to be a DC-6 parked next to it, but that airplane was refurbished and flown out about 4 years ago. I heard that the DC6 was flown to South America or Africa (can't remember which) where it was to be used as a passenger and cargo aircraft. I've marked the parking location of the old P3 and DC-6 on this taxiway diagram.

The story I heard was that the Navy had donated the P3 to the Western Aerospace Museum, but the museum either didn't have space for it or they were unable to come to terms with the Port of Oakland about how to move it to their facility (which was adjacent to what was then the Alaska Airlines maintenance hangar). So she sat there and quickly became covered with bird droppings. On many occasions I saw a red-tailed hawk perched atop her vertical stabilizer, looking for an unsuspecting ground squirrel or rabbit to nab for lunch. Three years ago, there was an eagle hanging out on the North Field and I saw it installed in the same position, adding a regal flair to the otherwise dilapidated, four-engine Orion.

Whatever the real story was for why it sat there for so many years, the old P3 became a landmark that kept many a student pilot from getting lost while taxiing out from the Old Tee Hangars to Runway 33 or Runway 9L. The ground controllers even used it as a landmark to give lost pilots directions. And getting lost in that area is easy because several taxiway signs there are incorrect: Taxiway N splits into Taxiways K, L, M, and Q, but all the first signs used off that intersection are black on yellow direction signs, not yellow on black location signs. The screwed-up signs led to many a discussion between instructor and student pilot. I'm told that the airport has received waivers every year from the FAA to allow those signs to remain.

So imagine my surprise when I saw crews working around the old P3 last week as I taxied out to Runway 33. I asked the ground controller what they were doing and he replied "My understanding is that they're dismantling it." Not taking it apart, mind you. Tearing it apart and scrapping it. I searched and searched to see if I had a photo of the P3 intact, but I don't seem to have one. Last Saturday, I saw the empennage had been torn off. Today, I took this picture and you can see nothing remains but the tarps that were put down underneath, presumably to catch any potentially toxic material.

I'm sad the old girl is gone (I always thought of her as a girl, don't ask me why). It's even more sad to think that she was just torn apart for scrap. And woe unto those unfamiliar pilots who taxi out in the far, northwest corner of the North Field: You're on your own now.


Dave Starr said...

Intersting post, John. As happens with many comments, I felt like focusing on one of your side points ... the non-standard taxiway signs.

There are many conceivable problems the owners of an airport might have to request a waiver for ... but especially considering the serious potential "contributing factor" to runway incursion incidents (or worse, ComAir 5191 as one example) of mis-marked taxiways this certainly doesn't seem like one that oughtt to be routinely approved.

Applying for waivers year after year for readily correctable deficiencies is just like flying aircraft with missing pieces as we talked about a few days back ... becuase you _can_ is not a sufficient reason that you _should_.

A few years ago I had a job in Japan which included erecting a 40-foot steel tower close to an active USAF runway. I went to the airdrome manager's office and asked to see the drawings of the TERPS clearance plane so my engineers could site the tower as close as possible while still remaining under the clearance plane line. The manager's response? "Oh I can get a waiver approved easy, just tell me where you want the tower and we'll do the paperwork, because I know the colonel wants this project done quick."

I'm sure the boss's desire for a quick installation did not include sticking yet another piece of steel into the flight path of his aircraft ... but such was the mindset of the staff who didn't wear pilot's wings it seemed.

No wonder our base had some ridiculously high number of clearance plane violations ... a waiver doesn't make something that is wrong right.

I know at California (and aviation) prices it might cost some thousands of dollars to correct the taxiway signs ... but how long should deficiencies just go on and on?

John said...


I'm not sure why the Port of Oakland doesn't just fix the signs, but I have some theories.

The far northwest corner of the North Field is, in many ways, the poor stepchild when it comes to upgrades or amenities. I've heard off and on that the Port would just as soon see GA go away so they could turn the northwest area into a cargo terminal or erect more BIG hangars for large aircraft, which apparently bring in big bucks.

I've heard that small businesses trying to operate at Oakland have big difficulties and expenses. The airport has one GA maintenance facility and the only avionics repair facility went out of business last year.

The irony is that there is at least a 5 year waiting list for GA hangars at Oakland. Go figure ...

Shdwcaster said...

It always makes me sad to read about an old warhorse being scrapped. While they weren't as common a sight as C-130s and C-141s, I remember seeing a fair number of P-3Cs overflying my house on their way to Lockheed's maintenance facilities in Palmdale.

It's a shame for an old model to go, more so because it should have been in a museum.

Neil said...

...Aren't they all girls? ; )

Chad said...

Here's a picture of the P3 when it was still in one piece.