More on who we are…

Why “Flight” and “TACCO”?  We’re heard that question from a few folks and wanted to provide a follow-up post.  The background of those two particular callsigns requires that you be read into P-3C crew dynamics. The P-3C Orion is a fine piece of gear that has come to the end of a long and successful service life, the last decades of which we have fondly referred to as “Protecting tomorrow with yesterday.” For those of you who are not familiar with the inner workings of a P-3C’s crew, here’s a peek behind the curtain…


A P-3C has a standard tactical crew of 11 people. There are five officers on board: three pilots (from senior to junior: Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) who signs for the aircraft and is responsible for safety of flight, 2P is the second senior pilot whose job it is to file flight plans and work on qualifications to become a PPC, and the 3P’s job is to get box lunches for the crew – I am not making this up – and accrue flight hours to become a 2P and then PPC) and 2 Naval Flight Officers (NFOs – TACCO (Tactical Coordinator, the abbreviation is not pronounced like the Mexican delicacy, but like the first part of the two words it represents) is responsible for managing the battle picture and, as the namewould indicate, tactically coordinating the efforts of the crew to accomplish the mission at hand and the NAV/COM (Navigator/Communicator) is the junior NFO who is responsible for knowing where the aircraft is so as not to overfly bits of land owned by others, friendly or no, and make sure those who need to know where the aircraft is are so appropriately advised). There are also six enlisted sailors aboard: two Flight Engineers (to keep the pilots in line – seriously), two acoustic sensor operators (one senior (SS1) and one junior (SS2), both operate the sonar suite and listen for submarines – think “Jonsey” from The Hunt for Red October), one non-acoustic sensor operator (SS-3 – runs all the other gear aboard), and one in-flight technician (IFT) who fixes anything inside the aircraft that breaks during a mission. Because something invariably would. The enlisted crew is made up of incredible subject matter experts (SMEs) who keep the aircraft safe and allow us to collectively accomplish our missions.

Prior to going on deployment, a P-3C crew goes through a series of training evolutions to build their respective battle plans. Each crew works through variations of World War III scenarios to plan, evaluate, sometimes scrap and revamp the way they will tackle any similar missions while deployed. After coming through this training scenario, a crew hopefully “gels” and becomes what I would imagine it would be like to play on a professional sports team. Namely, when the SME on the plane offers new information about the mission, the other crewmembers automatically react according to a plan honed in practice. While in flight, the crew remains in communication with each otherover the ICS (Intercommunciations System). To minimize the confusion with a group discussion among folks spread out over the aircraft, each looking at different gear, every comment is prefaced with stating the crew position you are addressing followed by your own position. Whoever is flying the plane is addressed as “Flight”. Some examples: “Flight, TACCO. I need you to hit buoy 24 heading north.” “TACCO, SS1. SASP is down.” “Flight, TACCO – SS3. I’ve got a new radar contact, bearing 210 degrees true at 50 nautical miles.”

Crew dynamics are a beautiful thing to witness when well practiced and can be equally awkward and painful when, um, not so. The two senior folks on board, the PPC and TACCO, lead the crew and, when the crew is operating well, these two folks seem to share a brain, although one may not always be sure who has said melded brain. Sometimes, however, the TACCO and the PPC have maybe different approaches to accomplishing the mission and, the more seasoned the aviator, the more set in her or his ways.  The senior of the two is the designated Mission Commander (MC) and has the ultimate say in how a mission is best accomplished.

About six months ago, we realized this current evolution is not unlike going on a deployment of unspecified duration, with a potential change of homeport at an unidentified time thrown in for good measure. As with any deployment, there was a lot of planning that needed to happen and I’d half-jokingly suggested we needed a POA&M (Plan of Action and Milestones – the Navy doesn’t do anything without publishing one of these documents) to stay on track. While we didn’t generate the actual document, we did go into Navy planning and executing mode and had weekly, sometimes daily, department head meetings. We’d joke along the lines of, “Flight, TACCO – Can we review the checklist for basement completion?” So, until we earn different (better?) callsigns, these are familiar and roughly in line with our current responsibilities.