Calls for the Viking’s Return Have So Far Not Been Answered, But Fans Can Still Hope
Lockheed’s S-3 Viking carrier-based antisubmarine aircraft was developed to replace the venerable Grumman S-2 Tracker. To replace a versatile and frankly well-liked aircraft like the Tracker would take an excellent aircraft in its own right; one with not only next-level technology but also ground-breaking capabilities for carrier-based antisubmarine warfare (ASW). The thing was, even though Lockheed land-based aircraft had been flying ocean surveillance missions for decades, Lockheed hadn’t delivered a carrier-based aircraft since the T2V-1 Seastar trainer. Sure they had tried, but Grumman, Vought, Douglas, and North American had owned carrier aviation for many years.
Putting a Team Together
Lockheed decided to bring Vought (by now Ling-Temco-Vought or LTV) in on their proposal for the US Navy’s VSX requirement during the mid-1964. The aircraft the two companies came up with borrowed from Vought’s Corsair II (nose landing gear), Crusader (main landing gear). Vought was also tasked with designing the folding wings and empennage. Lockheed owned the overall design and integration, General Electric the engines, and Sperry Univac got the contract to develop the aircraft’s next-level integrated sensor suite. General Dynamics teamed with Grumman to develop their VSX design (Model 21). Ironically both Grumman and Vought developed their own VSX designs as well. McDonnell Douglas submitted a pair of VSX designs too. The final design entries were submitted by the end of December 1968.
On 4 August 1969, Lockheed’s design was selected as the winner of the VSX contest and designated S-3A. Eight YS-3A prototypes were ordered, the first of which (Navy Bureau of Aeronautics Number of BuNo 157992 flew on 21 January 1972. The development and test phases of the program went remarkably well. The Lockheed/LTV/Sperry/GE team was able to meet or exceed the development milestones and delivered the aircraft on time and within budget- an almost unheard of phenomenon in those days and the days since. To top it all off, the scheduled crew training start date, the initial operational capability (IOC) date, and the initial carrier deployment date were all met or exceeded.
A Passel of Firsts
All the more impressive was the fact that the YS-3A was an entirely new airframe with new engines, the first computer system of its kind, the first crew ejection system of its kind, the first carrier-based AW platform to be inflight refueling capable, the first to be able to execute a missed carrier approach (bolter) with an engine out, the first to include a fully Automatic Carrier Landing System (ALCS) with auto-throttle, the first with a 60 store sonobuoy capacity, the first to be capable of descending from 30,000 feet altitude to seal level in two minutes, the first to be equipped with an auxiliary power unit (APU), and the first to eliminate paper from the sensor data analysis process.
Going to The Boat
Production of S-3A Viking aircraft began at Lockheed’s Burbank production facility in 1974 and fleet S-3As entered service with Air Antisubmarine Warfare Squadron FOUR ONE (VS-41) Shamrocks on 20 February 1974. VS-41 was the S-3 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) or RAG until East Coast squadron VS-27 Pelicans/Sea Wolves was tasked with East Coast RAG duty during the 1980s. The first operational fleet squadron to gain IOC with the Viking was VS-21 Fighting Red Tails. VS-21 was also the first to deploy with the Viking when they went aboard the carrier USS John F Kennedy (CVA-67) with CVW-1 for the carrier’s 1975-1976 Mediterranean Sea deployment. Fleet S-3A Vikings blew through 100,000 flight hours less than two years after the Red Tails first took the Viking on that first Med Cruise.
The Ubiquitous Hoover
Lockheed built a total of 187 S-3 Vikings (including those eight prototypes) between 1971 and 1978. Vikings equipped a total of 18 Navy squadrons. The East Coast home of the Vikings was NAS Cecil Field near Jacksonville in Florida. After the Navy moved out of Cecil, East Coast VS units were based at NAS Jacksonville. West Coast VS squadrons were shore based with VS-41 at NAS North Island in San Diego. During their 42 years in service Lockheed Vikings flew for nearly 1.7 million flight hours. Fleet Vikings were retired and sent to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) near Tucson in Arizona. Many of those aircraft remain in storage today.
Ingress and Egress
The Viking was crewed by four- a pilot, a co-pilot, a tactical coordinator (TACCO) seated on the starboard side aft and an enlisted aviation antisubmarine warfare operator (AW) or SENSO seated on the port side aft. All four crew positions were equipped with upward-firing Douglas Escapac E-1 zero-zero ejection seats. The seats could be ejected in group sequence or the rear seats individually. Rear seat ejection sequences included automatic stowage of the keyboard shelves in front of the TACCO and SENSO. Front seat ejection was through the top of the canopy on either side of the retractable refueling probe; rear seats fired through special panels built into the crew cabin overhead. Crew entry into the Viking was via a small low-mounted entry door on the starboard side of the aircraft just behind the cockpit bulkhead.
The S-3’s folding wings were high-mounted on its fuselage with leading edges swept at 15 degrees. The wings had leading edge slats and trailing edge Fowler flaps along with spoilers mounted on both the upper and the lower surfaces. Control surfaces on the wings and swept empennage were all hydraulically actuated. Viking empennages were conventional swept surfaces featuring a folding vertical stabilizer. S-3s were powered by a pair of General Electric TF34 twin-shaft high-bypass turbofan engines putting out 9,065 pounds of thrust, providing the Viking with 2,300 miles of range- extendable via aerial refueling. The engines were mounted in nacelles under the inner wings close to the fuselage to facilitate the folding wings. TF34 engines powered only one other production military aircraft: The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. The distinctive sound of the TF34s bestowed on the jet’s iconic nickname- Hoover.
Under the wings outboard of the engines and inside the wing fold the Viking was equipped with two underwing pylons from which 1,500 pounds worth of drop tanks, ordnance such as general purpose and cluster bombs, missiles, rockets, and storage pods could be hung per pylon. The internal bomb bay could also be used to tote 4,000 pounds of general purpose bombs along with aerial torpedoes and “special” stores like the B57 and B61 atomic bombs. In the Hoover’s belly were the 59 ASW sonobuoy chutes with a single dedicated search and rescue (SAR) chute. The Texas Instruments AN/ASQ-81magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) sensor was mounted on an extendable boom in the tail of the Viking. The Viking countermeasures system was the ALE-39 system featuring the ability to deploy up to 90 rounds of flares, chaff, or expendable jammers from the aircraft’s three dispensers.
No Burnt Paper Smell in the Viking
Four man Hoover crews were able to excel thanks in large part to that Sperry General Purpose Digital Computer (GPDC) and its integrated sensor suite. Unlike Lockheed’s P-3 Orion or the previous Grumman S-2 Tracker, there were no paper traces with scrawled annotations or calipers aboard Hoovers. The SENSO and TACCO could display data from any of the onboard sensor systems on their multi-purpose displays (MPDs). Able to shift workloads between stations and monitor the take from everything at once made Viking crews efficient and flexible. It is a tribute to the mission systems in the Viking that the Canadians chose the same core mission system to equip their P-3 Orion-derived Lockheed CP-140 Aurora ASW aircraft.