What Was NASA’s Viking S-3B?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is known, among others, for having at its disposal a wide and interesting variety of aircraft. While its space missions have made headlines over the years, normal planes also play an important role in NASA operations. One of these planes was the Lockheed S-3B “Viking”.

NASA retired its last Viking in 2021. Photo: Louis DePaemelaere, USAF / NASA via Wikimedia Commons

When did NASA acquire the Viking?

Lockheed primarily developed its S-3 “Viking” jet for use by the United States Navy in anti-submarine warfare. The type made its first flight in January 1972 and entered active service two years later. By the 1990s, its operational focus shifted to aerial refueling and surface warfare. In the 2000s, the US Navy began to abandon its Vikings after three decades.

As these planes were released from military service, they became available for acquisition by companies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. According to AINonline, NASA obtained four former S-3Bs from the Navy in 2004. One particular example, the N601NA, underwent a conversion in 2006, resulting in various interesting functions.

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NASA Lockheed S-3B Viking
The conversion of the N601NA in 2006 allowed it to do extensive research for NASA. Photo: NASA

What was the S-3B used for?

The process of converting the aircraft spared it military equipment, replacing this technology with features such as satellite communications and research equipment. In the case of the former, NASA was able to use the Viking as a test bed for communications equipment as it flies regularly at low speed and at low altitude, providing a better link to ground stations.

NASA is also known to use the S-3B in areas such as environmental surveillance (on all kinds of terrain) and aviation safety. A particularly interesting security project saw the deployment of the S-3B to set communication standards for unmanned aircraft in US airspace. Mike Jarrell, who heads NASA’s Command and Control project, says:

This old aircraft was a big part of the ushering in the future of aviation. The S-3B adapted perfectly to our research. It has a nice flat bottom where we can mount a variety of antennas. “

NASA Viking Flight Path
The Viking’s retreat flight took him from Cleveland to San Diego via El Paso. Image: RadarBox.com

The end of an era

After more than 16 years of research missions, NASA has finally chosen to retire its last S-3B Viking (and indeed the world) in July 2021. The company has confirmed that its “advanced air mobility communications research will continue using a T-34 Mentor aircraft as new standards are developed to recommend to the Federal Aviation Administration. “

Having been based near Cleveland at the John Glenn Research Center, the N601NA’s last trip took him from Ohio to California. According to data from RadarBox.com, it left Cleveland Hopkins International Airport at 8:48 a.m. local time and flew via El Paso, Texas.

After stopping at El Paso International Airport, the Viking continued west. He landed at Naval Air Station San Diego on the North Island at 3:05 p.m. local time. Now in San Diego, it will be kept as an exhibit at the city’s Air & Space Museum (SDASM).

Do you know NASA’s Lockheed S-3B Viking? Maybe you even saw it for yourself? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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