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S-3 Viking
An S-3B Viking launches from the catapult aboard USS Abraham Lincoln.
Role Anti-submarine aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
First flight 21 January 1972
Introduction 1974
Retired 2009
Status retired
Primary user United States Navy
Produced 1974-1978
Number built 187
Unit cost US$27 million (1974)

The Lockheed S-3 Viking was a jet aircraft used by the United States Navy to identify, track, and destroy enemy submarines. In the late 1990s, the S-3B's mission focus shifted to surface warfare and aerial refueling. The Viking also provided electronic warfare and surface surveillance capabilities to the carrier battle group. A carrier-based, subsonic, all-weather, multi-mission aircraft with long range, it carried automated weapon systems, and was capable of extended missions with in-flight refueling. Because of the engines’ low-pitched sound, it was nicknamed the "Hoover" after the brand of vacuum cleaner. The US Navy retired the S-3 Viking in January 2009, with its missions being assumed by other platforms such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.



The YS-3A prototype.

In the mid-1960s, the United States Navy developed the VSX (Heavier-than-air, Anti-submarine, Experimental) requirement for a replacement for the piston-engined Grumman S-2 Tracker as an anti-submarine aircraft to fly off the Navy's aircraft carriers. In August 1968, a team lead by Lockheed and a Convair/Grumman team were asked to further develop their proposals to meet this requirement.[1] Lockheed recognised that it had little recent experience in designing carrier based aircraft, so Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) was brought into the team, being responsible for the folding wings and tail, the engine nacelles, and the landing gear, which was derived from A-7 Corsair II (nose) and F-8 Crusader (main). Sperry Univac Federal Systems was assigned the task of developing the aircraft's onboard computers which integrated input from sensors and sonobuoys.[2][3]

On 4 August 1969, Lockheed's design was selected as the winner of the contest, and eight prototypes, designated YS-3A were ordered.[4] The first prototype flew on 21 January 1972[2] and the S-3 entered service in 1974. During the production run from 1974 to 1978, a total of 186 S-3As were built.


ES-3A Shadow

ES-3A Shadow

The ES-3A Shadow ES-3A was designed as a carrier-based, subsonic, all-weather, long-range, electronic reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft. All 16 aircraft were modified S-3 Viking airframes, which were modified with numerous additional antennas and antenna housings. The Shadow replaced the EA-3B Skywarrior, and entered fleet service in 1993.

The ES-3A carried an extensive suite of electronic sensors and communications gear, replacing the S-3’s submarine detection, armament, and maritime surveillance equipment with avionics racks accommodating the ES-3A’s sensors. These modifications had minor impact on airspeed, reducing its top rated speed from 450 KTAS to 405 KTAS but had no noticeable impact on the aircraft's range and actually increased its rated loiter time. Because these aircraft were standoff indications and warnings platforms and were never intended to be part of an ingress strike package, this new speed limitation was considered insignificant.


The S-3 is a conventional monoplane with a high-mounted cantilever wing, swept 15°. The two GE TF-34 high-bypass turbofan engines mounted in nacelles under the wings provide exceptional cruise efficiency compared to turbojets or earlier turbofans.

S-3A with extended MAD-sensor

The aircraft can seat four crew members with the pilot and the copilot/tactical coordinator (COTAC) in the front of the cockpit and the tactical coordinator (TACCO) and sensor operator (SENSO) in the back. Entry is by an entry door / ladder which folds out of the side of the fuselage. When the aircraft's Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role ended in the late 90s, SENSOs were removed from the crew. In the tanking crew configuration, the S-3B typically flies with only a crew of two (pilot and COTAC). The wing is fitted with leading edge and Fowler flaps. Spoilers are fitted to both the upper and the lower surfaces of the wings. All control surfaces are actuated by dual hydraulically boosted irreversible systems. In the event of dual hydraulic failures, an Emergency Flight Control System (EFCS) permits manual control with greatly increased stick forces and reduced control authority.

All crew members sit on forward-facing, upward-firing Douglas Escapac zero-zero ejection seats. In "group eject" mode, initiating ejection from either front seat ejects the entire crew in sequence, with the back seats ejecting 0.5 seconds before the front in order to provide safe separation. The rear seats are capable of self ejection, and the ejection sequence includes a pyrotechnic charge that stows the rear keyboard trays out of the occupants' way immediately before ejection. Safe ejection requires the seats to be weighted in pairs, and when flying with a single crewman in the back the unoccupied seat is fitted with ballast blocks.

S-3 launches from USS Nimitz.

At the time it entered the fleet, the S-3 introduced an unprecedented level of systems integration. Previous ASW aircraft like the Lockheed P-3 Orion and S-3's predecessor, the Grumman S-2 Tracker, featured separate instrumentation and controls for each sensor system. Sensor operators often monitored paper traces, using mechanical calipers to make precise measurements and annotating data by writing on the scrolling paper. Beginning with the S-3, all sensor systems were integrated through a single General Purpose Digital Computer (GPDC). Each crew station had its own display, and the COTAC, TACCO and SENSO displays were Multi-Purpose Displays (MPD), capable of displaying data from any of a number of systems. This new level of integration allowed the crew to consult with each other by examining the same data at multiple stations simultaneously, to manage workload by assigning responsibility for a given sensor from one station to another, and to easily combine clues from each sensor to classify faint targets. Because of this, the four-man S-3 was considered roughly equivalent in capability to the much larger P-3 with a crew of 12.

The aircraft has two underwing hardpoints that can be used to carry fuel tanks, general purpose and cluster bombs, missiles, rockets, and storage pods. It also has four internal bomb bay stations that can be used to carry general purpose bombs, aerial torpedoes, and special stores (B57 and B61). Fifty-nine sonobuoy chutes are fitted, as well as a dedicated Search and Rescue (SAR) chute. The S-3 is fitted with the ALE-39 countermeasure system and can carry up to 90 rounds of chaff, flares, and expendable jammers (or a combination of all) in three dispensers. A retractable magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) Boom is fitted in the tail.

In the late 1990s, the S-3B's role was changed from Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) to Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW). At that time, the MAD Boom was removed, along with several hundred pounds of submarine detection electronics. With no remaining sonobuoy processing capability, most of the sonobuoy chutes were faired over with a blanking plate.

Operational history

The S-3A replaced the aging S-2 Tracker in 1975.

On 20 February 1974, the S-3A officially became operational with the VS-41 Shamrocks Fleet Replacement Squadron. The first operational cruise took place in 1975 with VS-21 Fighting Redtails aboard USS John F. Kennedy.

Starting in 1991, some of these were upgraded to the S-3B with a number of new sensors, avionics, and weapons systems, including the capability to launch the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. The S-3B can also be fitted with "buddy stores" external fuel tanks that allow the Viking to refuel other aircraft. 16 S-3As were converted to ES-3 Shadows for carrier-based electronic intelligence (ELINT) duties. One aircraft, designated US-3A, was also converted for utility and limited cargo duty.[3] Plans were also made to develop the KS-3A carrier-based tanker aircraft to replace the retired KA-6 but this program was ultimately cancelled after the conversion of just one early development S-3A.

Since the submarine threat has been perceived as reduced, the Vikings have had the majority of their antisubmarine warfare equipment removed and are now used primarily for sea surface search, sea and ground attack, over-the-horizon targeting, and aircraft refueling.[3] As a result, crews are now usually limited to two, though three person crews are not unusual with certain missions.

During the Cold War The S-3's main task was ASW, like this VS-32 S-3A.

A number of recent upgrade programs have been implemented. These include the Carrier Airborne Inertial Navigation System II (CAINS II) upgrade, which replaced older inertial navigation hardware with ring laser gyroscopes and additional GPS systems, and added electronic flight instruments (EFI). The Maverick Plus System (MPS) added the capability to employ the AGM-65E laser-guided or AGM-65F infrared-guided AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile, and the AGM-84H/K Stand-off Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM/ER). The SLAM/ER is a GPS/inertial/infrared guided cruise missile that can be controlled by the aircrew in the terminal phase of flight if an AWW-13 data link pod is carried by the aircraft.[3]

The S-3B saw extensive service during the 1991 Gulf War, performing attack, tanker, and ELINT duties, and launching ADM-141 TALD decoys. The aircraft also participated in the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s and in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

The first ES-3A was delivered in 1991, entering service after two years of testing. The Navy established 2 squadrons of eight aircraft each. The VQ-5 Sea Shadows were originally based in Agana, Guam but later moved to NAS North Island, San Diego, California. The VQ-6 Black Ravens were originally based at NAS Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida, but later moved to NAS Jacksonville, approximately 15 miles away. Each squadron deployed a detachment aboard each U.S. aircraft carrier - a Detachment typically consisted of two aircraft, 10 Officers, and 55 Enlisted and contained four complete aircrews.

After retirement of the KA-6D the S-3B became the main aerial refueling aircraft.

The ES-3A operated primarily with carrier battle groups, providing organic ‘Indications and Warning’ support to the group and joint theater commanders. In addition to their warning and reconnaissance roles, and their extraordinarily stable handling characteristics and range, Shadows were a preferred recovery tanker (aircraft that provide refueling for returning aircraft). They averaged over 100 flight hours per month while deployed. Excessive utilization caused earlier than expected equipment replacement when Naval aviation funds were limited, making them an easy target for budget-driven decision makers. In 1999, both ES-3A squadrons and all 16 aircraft were decommissioned. The ES-3A inventory was placed in Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) storage.

Though the S-3 was once considered being replaced by Common Support Aircraft, the original plan failed to materialize. As the surviving S-3 airframes were forced into sundown, a Lockheed Martin full scale fatigue test was performed and extended the service life of the aircraft by approximately 11,000 hours. The current Navy plans call for the retirement of all Vikings by 2009 so new aircraft can be introduced to recapitalize the aging fleet inventory. Their missions will be spread among the other battlegroup fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

In Combat

In March 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, an S-3B Viking from Sea Control Squadron 38 (The "Red Griffins") launched from USS Constellation. The crew successfully executed a time sensitive strike and fired a laser-guided Maverick missile to neutralize a significant Iraqi naval and leadership target in the port city of Basra, Iraq.

This was one of the few times in its long and distinguished operational history that the S-3B Viking had been employed overland on an offensive combat air strike and the first time it launched a laser-guided Maverick missile in combat. The first time an S-3B was employed overland during an offensive air strike was during Operation Desert Storm when an aircraft from Squadron VS-24, from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), attacked an Iraqi Silkworm missile site.

S-3B Viking "Navy One" landing on Abraham Lincoln, 1 May 2003.

As "Navy One"

On 1 May 2003, US President George W. Bush flew in the co-pilot seat of a VS-35 Viking from NAS North Island, California to USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast. There, he delivered his "Mission Accomplished" speech announcing the end of major combat in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the flight, the aircraft used the customary presidential callsign of "Navy One".

The aircraft that President Bush flew in was retired shortly thereafter and on 15 July 2003 was accepted as an exhibit at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.

In Iraq

Between July and December 2008 the VS-22 Checkmates, the last sea control squadron, operated a detachment of 4 S-3Bs from the Al Asad Air Base, 100 miles west of Baghdad. The planes were fitted with LANTIRN pods and they performed non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance NTISR. After more than 350 missions, the Checkmates returned to Jacksonville, Fl., prior to decommissioning.


The S-3B BuNo 160607 is operated by NASA since 2009.

The final carrier based S-3B Squadron, VS-22 was decommissioned on 29 January 2009. The Sea Control Wing decommissioned on 30 January 2009. On 30 January 2009, the U.S. Navy retired the last S-3 Viking from fleet service.[5] In February 2009 it was announced that four aircraft would be retained to patrol the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii. The jet aircraft's higher speed, 10 hour endurance, modern radar, and a LANTIRN targeting pod allow it to quickly confirm the test range is clear of wayward ships before tests commence.[6 ]. The NASA Glenn Research Center acquired an S-3B (USN BuNo 160607) in 2005. Since 2009 this aircraft with the civil registration N601NA is used for various tests.


S-3A of VS-37, USS Constellation, 1986.
US-3A of VRC-50 in 1987.
ES-3As of VQ-5.
S-3B with D-704 buddy store.

First production version, 186 built.
Upgraded avionics, AN/APS-137 inverse synthetic aperture radar, Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, AGM-84 Harpoon launch capability, first flight 13 September 1984, 119 converted from S-3As.
ES-3A Shadow
ELINT aircraft, AN/APS-137 inverse synthetic aperture radar, first flight 15 May 1991, 16 converted from S-3A.
Proposed dedicated air tanker with fuel capacity of 4,382 US gal (16,600 l), one converted from YS-3A, later converted to US-3A.
Proposed air tanker based on S-3B and utilizing the buddy refueling system, not built.
S-3A modified for carrier onboard delivery, capacity for six passengers or 4,680 lb (2,120 kg) of cargo, retired in 1998.
Alladin Viking
Conversion of six aircraft for overland surveillance and Elint missions. May have dropped ground sensors in the Bosnian War.
Beartrap Viking
S-3Bs fitted with still-classified modifications.
Callypso Viking
Proposed anti-smuggling variant, not built.
Gray Wolf Viking
One aircraft fitted with AN/APG-76 radar in a modified cargo pod under the wing. Also dubbed SeaSTARS in reference to E-8 Joint STARS.
Orca Viking
Avionics testbed.
Outlaw Viking
One S-3B fitted with Over-the-horizon Airborne Sensor Information System (OASIS III), returned to regular S-3B in 1998. This particular Viking is now on display at the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, located on the decommissioned USS Midway (CV-41).
NASA Viking
One aircraft was transformed into a state-of-the-art NASA research aircraft. The Navy's Fleet Readiness Center - Southeast and a Boeing facility in Fla. enhanced the plane by adding commercial satellite communications, global positioning navigation and weather radar systems. They installed research equipment racks in what was once the plane's bomb bay. NASA's S-3B Viking is equipped to conduct science and aeronautics missions, such as environmental monitoring, satellite communications testing and aviation safety research.[7]


 United States

Specifications (S-3A)

S-3A Viking 0017.jpg

Data from Standard Aircraft Characteristics[8]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4 (Pilot, 2× Naval Flight Officers, Sensor Operator/TFO)
  • Length: 53 ft 4 in (16.26 m)
  • Wingspan:
    • Unfolded: 68 ft 8 in (20.93 m)
    • Folded: 29 ft 6 in (9.00 m)
  • Height: 22 ft 9 in (6.93 m)
  • Wing area: 598 ft² (55.56 m²)
  • Empty weight: 26,581 lb (12,057 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 38,192 lb (17,324 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 52,539 lb (23,831 kg)
  • Powerplant:General Electric TF34-GE-2 turbofans, 9,275 lbf (41.26 kN) each
  • *Internal fuel capacity: 1,933 US gal (7,320 L) of JP-5 fuel
  • External fuel capacity: 2x 300 US gal (1,136 L) tanks



  • Up to 4,900 lb (2,220 kg) on four internal and two external hardpoints, including:

The two underwing hardpoints can also be fitted with unguided rocket pods or 300 US gal (1,136 l) fuel tanks.


See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

Aircraft on Display

An S-3B Viking is on display on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) at the Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, SC. Also at Patuxtent Naval Air Station Museum Lexington Park, MD



  1. ^ Francillon 1982, pp. 455–456.
  2. ^ a b Godfrey 1974, p.6.
  3. ^ a b c d Goebel, Greg (2005-05-01). "The Lockheed S-3 Viking". Air Vectors. Retrieved 2006-05-11.  
  4. ^ Francillon 1982, p.457.
  5. ^ "U.S. Navy Retires Last Lockheed Martin S-3B Viking From Fleet Service". Lockheed Martin. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-04.  
  6. ^ "Retired Vikings Work As Security Guards". Strategy Page. 18 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-20.  
  7. ^ NASA - Military Aircraft to Perform Aviation Safety Research
  8. ^ Standard Aircraft Characteristics. Navy Model S-3A Aircraft. Navair 00-110AS3-1.  


  • Francillon, René J. Lockheed Aircraft since 1913. London:Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30329-6.
  • Godfrey, David W. H. "Fixer, Finder, Striker: The S-3A Viking". Air International, July 1974, Vol 7 No 1. Bromley, UK:Fine Scroll. pp. 5–13.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. Military Aircraft of the Cold War (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2006. ISBN 1-84013-929-3.

External links


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