After being in duty since 2009, NASA retires S-3B Viking research aircraft from its fleet. S-3B flight research aircraft has been used daily at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The research aircraft was acquired in 2004 and has been in service for the last 16 years. After making its final flight S-3B Viking will retire at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in California. At the museum, it will be used to educate the public about its important role in the U.S. Navy and at NASA.
According to Jim Demers, Glenn’s Flight Operations Manager, “This is the last S-3B flying today anywhere in the world. It’s been a workhorse for NASA, but we just can’t source its unique parts anymore.”
Lockheed Martin had originally designed it as an anti-submarine warfare aircraft. NASA reconfigured the S-3B Viking completely in 2006 as a flight research aircraft. It was scrapped off all its weapon systems and replaced with civilian avionics, GPS, and satellite communications systems to conduct flight communications research.
Ever since its transformation the S-3B Viking has helped NASA’s aeronautical innovators define communications standards. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is able to apply these standards to unmanned aircraft systems for safe operation in U.S. airspace.
Mike Jarrell, head of NASA’s e Command and Control project said, “This old aircraft has been a huge part of ushering in the future of aviation. The S-3B has been a perfect match for our research. It has a nice flat bottom where we can mount a variety of antennas. It flies steady and goes low and slow so we can communicate with ground stations.”
S-3B has been a driving force as has helped conduct several results that helped the FAA and its commercial partners a path to secure, reliable command-and-control radios used for communication from the ground to unmanned aircraft systems. It carried out numerous flights across terrain in the national airspace including mountains, hills, over water, plains, and deserts.
Some of the achievement of S-3B includes its flights to monitor algal bloom growth in Lake Erie and develop hyperspectral imaging equipment to provide more accurate data for university scientists studying the problem. It was fitted with hyperspectral imagers to its underbelly and analyzed a wide spectrum of light to identify the types of harmful algal blooms in the water. The aircraft’s inertial navigation system helped researchers calibrate their equipment for better geo-referencing data.
In the absence of S-3B, NASA will continue to use T-34 Mentor aircraft as new standards are developed to recommend to the Federal Aviation Administration.