WRONG LIGHTUP

by Mac McComas

We were on a P-2 night training flight off the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the late 50's.

The flight was to train radar operators (me) and pilots/copilots to pick up a target: (a possible snorkling Russian submarine). I would pick up a target among all the clutter, guide the pilot into the target and at the last mile, he would light off the searchlight operated in the cockpit.

We lit up several smaller craft or floating debris and played around with them, when I noticed a fairly large target coming into our area. We were about 15 miles off shore and I thought it could be a freighter or tanker or something good to play with.

I called the cockpit, told the pilot where it was and he turned the aircraft around to the heading I gave him from the radar. It was about 20 miles away, and I adjusted the pilot's heading several times to bring the target right under the right wing. We proceeded to the target and at the 1 mile range, I instructed the pilot to "light up" and told him it should pass right under the right wing. All the crew looked out the closest window to see just what we had picked up. We were at about 500' altitude.

What a surprise on both sides when a large, expensive yacht came into view and about 30 people in tuxedos and evening gowns were dancing on the deck. They scattered like chickens who had just seen a fox. The pilot pulled up and we were laughing so hard, we had to take a break and calm down. I had only been in the Navy about 2 years and on an aircrew as a new operator about 6 months. I thought I had really messed up, but to shouts of "Way to go, Mac!", I joined the laughter. The whole crew was jovial the rest of the flight and word travels fast around a squadron. I got grins and laughter for several days.

(Editor's note: If memory serves, the P-2's searchlight was 20 million candle power and the P-3's was 80 million. This helps explain why the P-3 has not for years carried a searchlight.)