The Navy began what became the S-3 Viking program in 1964 to replace the piston-powered S-2 Tracker. Known originally as VSX—for "carrier-based antisubmarine warfare aircraft-X" — a formal request for proposal was issued in April 1968. A joint General Dynamics-Grumman team and the then-Lockheed Aircraft Corp. were chosen from among the competitors to refine their proposals.
Although Lockheed had four decades of land-based antisubmarine warfare experience dating back to the World War II-era Hudson, the company had only built one carrier-based aircraft to that point, the T2V-1 SeaStar trainer. To build a strong Navy-oriented team, Lockheed first brought on LTV Aerospace, formerly Vought, with its long history in carrier aviation, as a partner. Then the Federal Systems Division of Sperry Rand was added to develop the aircraft's computerized acoustic detection system, a first for an airborne antisubmarine warfare platform.
The Lockheed team was declared the winner of the VSX competition on 4 August 1969. One of several speakers at the 2009 retirement ceremony was current Lockheed Martin F-35 Executive Vice President Tom Burbage, who flew the Viking as a Navy test pilot and later ran the S-3 program for the company. He noted that "the S-3 was a unique program. We went from first contract to first contact over a sub-marine in just three years."
VSX To Viking
Rollout of the first aircraft came at Lockheed's plant in Burbank, California, on 8 November 1971, a specific date that had been agreed to when the development contract was signed. Jane McClellan, wife of Navy Bureau of Aeronautics head Rear Adm. T. R. McClellan, christened the aircraft with champagne and bestowed the aircraft's official nickname — Viking, the winning entry in a Navy and contractor name-the-plane contest. But because the aircraft's GE TF34 turbofan engines sound much like a very large vacuum cleaner, crews were very soon calling the S-3 by its unofficial and more widely used nickname — Hoover.
After the twenty-six month test program, Sea Control Squadron 41 (VS-41), the S-3 training unit, received its first aircraft on 20 February 1974, another contract-specific date. The Shamrocks, based at NAS North Island, San Diego, California, would serve as the Viking Replacement Air Group until the unit was decommissioned in July 2006, completing 347,000 flight hours with more than 48,000 traps and training more than 35,000 personnel.
Sea Control Squadron 29 (VS-29), known as the Dragonfires, made the first S-3 deployment aboard the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-67) in July 1975. The S-3 fleet surpassed 100,000 flight hours less than two years after that first deployment.
A total of 187 S-3As — eight test and 179 operational aircraft — were built between 1971 and 1978. Over its career, the Viking would serve with eighteen Navy squadrons. Operational aircraft were homeported at North Island on the West Coast and first at NAS Cecil Field and then later at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, on the East Coast. All total, the Viking fleet accumulated approximately 1.7 million flight hours.
Viking The Versatile
The Viking became known as the Swiss Army Knife of Naval Aviation, for its ability to carry out a range of missions for the Navy, including antisubmarine warfare, antisurface warfare, carrier onboard delivery, electronic surveillance, tanking, and over-the-horizon targeting.
Several variants of the S-3 were developed. Seven aircraft were modified as US-3A Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft, capable of carrying 4,250 pounds of cargo. The US-3 was first flown in 1976, and the type served until the early 1990s. Development of a dedicated KS-3A tanker variant began in 1979. Although the KS-3 was never produced, it did prove the concept of buddy tanking, or aerial refueling using a wing-mounted pod, a task which most S-3s later performed.
The significantly improved S-3B was developed in the early 1980s to better detect quiet Soviet submarines, identify targets, and carry standoff weapons. The S-3B prototype was flown for the first time in September 1984. A total of 119 S-3As were upgraded to the S-3B configuration between 1987 and 1994. The modification work took place at Cecil Field and at North Island.
Heading For Valhalla
Under the S-3 Integrated Maintenance Program, or IMP, Lockheed Martin and Navy personnel worked side-by-side to perform scheduled depot maintenance and repairs to return the Vikings rapidly to the operational fleet. This highly successful program ran from 2001 until 2007. A total of 149 aircraft were cycled through the program.
IMP began in 2001 primarily as a means of reducing the backlog at the Naval Aviation Depots. Instead of a Viking being out of service for nine months while it went through a full depot-level teardown and reassembly, IMP broke the required inspections and maintenance tasks into three forty-eight day periods spread over five years. IMP increased S-3 aircraft availability by eighteen percent, reduced maintenance tasking by forty-seven percent over the previous depot-level maintenance plan, and resulted in significantly reduced costs to the Navy.
In 2004, the Navy made the decision to draw down the number of aircraft types on its carrier decks to save costs and to increase the efficiency of the carrier air wings. The determination was made that the S-3 would be retired as well. The last S-3 carrier deployment was completed on 15 December 2007.
Although the S-3 airframes have considerable useful service life left, most of the Vikings have been retired to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group—the Boneyard—at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona. A handful of aircraft now serve as gate guards at bases. Some of the Hoovers have been placed in museums.
But a few Vikings will live on. The NASA Glenn Research Center near Cleveland, Ohio, has four S-3Bs that have been modified and are being used for icing research missions. Four other Vikings are expected to remain in Navy service to support armament development testing at Point Mugu, California.
As originally seen on
- The Lockheed team was declared the winner of the VSX competition on 4 August 1969.
- After the twenty-six month test program, Sea Control Squadron 41 (VS-41), the S-3 training unit, received its first aircraft on 20 February 1974.
- The Viking became known as the Swiss Army Knife of Naval Aviation, for its ability to carry out a range of missions for the Navy, including antisubmarine warfare, antisurface warfare, carrier onboard delivery, electronic surveillance, tanking, and over-the-horizon targeting.