BRUNSWICK, Maine — More than two years after the last U.S. Navy P3 Orion surveillance plan flew out of Brunswick Naval Air Station in anticipation of the May 2011 base decommissioning, midcoast area residents heard the familiar propeller roar of a former submarine chaser as it passed over Route 1 late last week.
A former Navy plane, now owned by the Brazilian Air Force, has been tucked away in Hangar 6 at the former Navy base since Friday while its four-man crew repaired a cracked windshield and one of the four propellers.
The P3 was purchased by the Brazilian Air Force, which plans to use it to track submarines from the air, flight engineer Dan Mathem said Wednesday in the crowded cockpit, as mechanic and observer Kelly Silcox tightened a windshield over the captain’s seat.
The 1965 plane was flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., to Chico, Calif., where Aircraft Deconstructors International performed structural maintenance — “real heavy maintenance,” Capt. Gary Thomas said Wednesday.
Then on Dec. 17, the crew — including First Officer Shawn Reiger, formerly stationed at BNAS — flew to Bangor, planning to head on to Spain for avionics modifications.
But while on the ground in Bangor, the captain’s front windshield broke and the No. 2 propeller began leaking, Silcox said.
So everyone went home and returned in January. After installing a temporary windshield, they flew last Friday on three engines from Bangor to Brunswick Executive Airport at Brunswick Landing.
“We can fly on three engines if we stay low and fly with no pressure,” Mathem said Wednesday.
This week, the four have completed the repairs on the tarmac and in Hangar 6, and as of late Wednesday afternoon, the P3 Orion is ready to head to Spain.
But it’s not quite so easy, now that the P3 is a foreign military aircraft.
“Every time this airplane moves, it has to receive diplomatic clearance to fly — from the State Department,” Mathem said. That takes three to five days.
So they wait, hoping to make a test flight Friday morning and then head to Spain late Friday night.
Earlier this week, Mathem turned his ankle while on the runway, and visited Mid Coast Hospital. He said medical staff spotted his flight jacket, and asked if he was on the P3 they’d seen overhead on Friday.
“They said, ‘We heard the engines,’” Mathem said. “They knew the sound.”