Now, the WHOLE Story of That One Time an Iranian Patrol Plane Buzzed an American Flattop

Iranian P-3 was performing special recon maneuver

Sometime probably in the summer of 2012, a P-3F patrol plane belonging to the Iranian air force flew real close to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as the flattop sailed in the Persian Gulf.

It wasn’t until an Iranian Website published photos of the incident that outsiders even knew the close encounter had taken place. The Iranian site’s photos told the story from the P-3 crew’s point of view.

Then, snapshots from the carrier, posted to, began to show us the event from the American perspective.

And now, thanks to some anonymous tipsters, we can complete the story with some context—plus photos taken by the pilot of an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter that ultimately escorted the P-3 away from Abraham Lincoln.

It apparently went down like this.

Navy photo

The four-engine, 1970s-vintage P-3F—one of four operated by Iran—approached Abraham Lincoln at low altitude. The encounter obviously took place in international waters, where both the ship and plane have every right to be.

“The P-3 looks like it is executing a standard surface reconnaissance maneuver known as an ‘eight-point rig,’” a former American P-3 pilot tells War is Boring.

Navy photo

“The maneuver is meant to yield an eight-perspective photo set of the contact—i.e., quarters, beams, bow and stern perspectives,” the pilot continues.

“This maneuver was used regularly on merchant ships to establish the contact’s name, home port, flag, hull type, deck cargo, course and speed—and photos,” according to the aviator.

Navy photo

The P-3 appears to have avoided pointing its nose at Abraham Lincoln, instead tracing a sort of square around the 1,000-foot vessel. That’s on purpose, the pilot says. “The maneuver is meant to avoid a threatening head-on approach of the contact.”

“Although,” the pilot adds, “I always thought the proximity was threatening to a military ship.”


Abraham Lincoln vectored a Super Hornet fighter to intercept the P-3, which apparently had climbed to a higher altitude after its low passes.


The Iranians snapped photos of the American jet flying just to starboard and under the P-3’s wing.

Navy photo

And, hopefully keeping one hand on the stick, the Super Hornet’s pilot shot photos of his own.

Navy photo

They include one very meta snapshot that shows the Iranian P-3 crew holding their cameras up to one of the patrol plane’s observation windows—aircrews from rival nations photographing each other photographing each other.

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