In early 2009 the last S-3B Viking was officially retired from US Navy service. It was not long after that the humble aircraft's 10 hour endurance and ample room for avionics, pods and test gear brought her back into limited service with VX-30 and NASA. Shown here, for the first time ever, are the world's only flying Vikings gathered in one place at one time.
Currently, there are three S-3B Vikings flying with VX-30 'Bloodhounds' out of NAS Point Mugu near Oxnard, California, and one example flying with NASA at the Glenn Research Center located in Cleveland, Ohio. VX-30's Vikings support weapons testing and range clearing duties over the Pacific Missile Range, while NASA's Viking has been modified to be a host for any number or aeronautical experiments and it has been especially focused on engine icing research.
I have been to NAS Pt. Mugu multiple times, and have seen VX-30's Vikings up close there and in other locales many times. These jets are totally immaculate and those who fly them take huge pride in doing so. They cannot say enough good things about the jet, and they are generally shocked that the DoD could not find use for a long-range, tactical-sized jet that gets good gas mileage, has a weapons bay, FLIR, good radar, is wired for a targeting pod, can act as a tanker, and has four seats along with a huge internal volume. As one pilot put it, 'the S-3B's viability is the worst kept little secret in the Navy.'
Although this picture is bittersweet, there is a fleeting possibility that Lockheed's Viking may rise again. In a modern era where the ability to loiter and sip fuel slowly is more important than high mach speeds, and where precision guided munitions don't care whether they are launched off a fighter or not, the S-3 is in many ways a more viable weapon system now than it was many years ago. None-the-less, the DoD lacks the creativity to put the jets back to work in a combat role, but there is talk that the aircraft may become the Navy's next carrier on-board delivery (COD) platform, although it will need some major modifications to make it possible. Additionally, South Korea is said to be very interested in putting the aircraft to use in the sea control mission which it was orignally born to do.
Regardless of if any of these exciting opportunities pan out for the orphaned Vikings that have been turned into rattlesnake umbrellas in the Arizona desert, at least four remain alive and well to prowl the skies for years to come, acting as a stubby middle finger to those who decided to retire her prematurely in the first place.
Long live the mighty Hoover.
Pictures via US Navy
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com