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H-3 Sea King

The H-3 is a twin engine, all-weather helicopter. The turbine engined Sikorsky S-61 spawned a family of submarine hunters, airliners, and rescue helicopters with offspring still serving around the world. Born as the Sea King antisubmarine helicopter for the US Navy originally named HSS-2, the S-61 grow in different models and is now used by several countries.

In December 1957 the US Navy began a new program for a high performance helicopter to replace the outdated S-58 (HSS-1). Sikorsky proposed a large twin turbine aircraft with a boat-type hull and retractable landing gear for amphibious operations. The S-61 aircraft, first designated as HSS-1, then HSS-2, made it's first public factory flight on March 11, 1959. The US Navy ordered the first ten S-61B/HSS-2 for delivery starting in September 1961. One year later, the HSS-2 was redesignated to SH-3A (H-3A, D, G, H). The H-3 helicopter was the first helicopter to incorporate an automatic blade fold system. It was the first helicopter to fly faster than 200 mph. It flew 210.6 mph (185kts) in 1962. It held the longest non-stop distance record for helicopter's. In 1965 loaded with extra fuel, it made a non-stop flight from the carrier Hornet, off the coast of San Diego, to the carrier F.D. Roosevelt, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. Covering 2116 miles in 15 hrs, 52 mins. The H-3 Sea King was designed for both shore and ship-based operations with the ability to detect, track, and destroy enemy submarines (ASW), provide logistic support, and to conduct search and rescue operations.

By 1979, the 20th anniversary of the first flight, more than 900 military S-61s had accumulated over 3 million flight hours, and 130 commercial S-61s had logged a total of more than 815,000 hours. Sikorsky built more than 1100 S-61s, and this excellent machine was also built with license in Great Britain by Westland as Sea King and Commando, in Italy by Agusta as AS.61 and in Japan by Mitsubishi.

The first Sea King flew on March 11, 1959 and the last one was manufactured in 1986. The Sea King was used by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Malysia, Japan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Spain, The United Kingdom, Venezuela and more than 400 by the US Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Air Force.

In October 1962 the Chief of Naval Operations directed that a few helicopters be converted for the Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) mission. Despite it's limitations and weaknesses, the RH-3A Sea King proved itself as an AMCM platform until it was replaced. The US Navy retired the UH-3H Sea King helicopter Dec. 11, 2009 after more than 50 years in service, making the Sea King the longest serving operational helicopter model in Navy history. The last US Navy Sea King SH-3 was retired in 2006 and very few countries still operate the old reliable bird.

On 20 December 2011 the last Sea Kings were retired from the Australian Navy after 35-years of service. At that time 41 elderly CH-124 Sea Kings continued to serve with the Canadian Defense Forces, which were expected to be retired in 2013, and some 59 UK Westland-built Sea Kings including 16 SAR and 13 AEW variants were slated to be replaced by Merlins or unspecified civilian aircraft by 2016.

The last US operator is the US Marine Corps which operates 11 VH-3Ds for the Washington Military District at the disposal of the President.

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Page last modified: 30-03-2012 18:45:20 ZULU