World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King

Article Id: WHEBN0000147326
Reproduction Date:

Title: Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sikorsky S-61R, Sikorsky R-6, Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, Sikorsky XHJS, Sikorsky S-52
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King

SH-3 Sea King
US Navy SH-3H Sea King helicopters
Role ASW/SAR/utility helicopter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft
First flight 11 March 1959
Introduction 1961
Retired Retired by United States Navy in 2006
Status In service
Primary users United States Navy (historical)
Italian Navy
Brazilian Navy
Argentine Naval Aviation
Produced 1959-1970s
Unit cost
$6.4 million[1]
Variants Sikorsky S-61L/N
Sikorsky S-61R
Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King
Westland Sea King

The Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King (company designation S-61) is an American twin-engined anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter designed and built by Sikorsky Aircraft. A landmark design, it was the world's first amphibious helicopter and one of the first ASW rotorcraft to use turboshaft engines.[65]

Introduced in 1961, it served in the United States Navy as a key ASW and utility asset for several decades before being replaced by the non-amphibious Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk in the 1990s. The type also proved popular in civil service and with foreign military customers. As of 2015, many remain in service in nations around the world. The Sea King has been built under license by Agusta in Italy, Mitsubishi in Japan, and by Westland in the United Kingdom as the Westland Sea King. The major civil versions are the S-61L and S-61N.



During the Cold War, the Soviet Navy built a submarine fleet that at one point included more than 200 operational submarines. The US Navy countered by developing various anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, including the Sea King.[66]

SH-3As of HS-6 above Kearsarge in the early 1960s

In 1957, Sikorsky was awarded a contract to produce an all-weather amphibious helicopter for the U.S. Navy. The new helicopter was to excel at ASW and would combine the roles of hunter and killer; these duties had previously been carried out by two separate helicopters.[4] Key features of the emerging ASW helicopter would include its amphibious hull for landing on water, and its twin-turboshaft engines that enabled a larger, heavier and better-equipped aircraft than prior helicopters.[4][5]

The first prototype took flight for the first time in March 1959.[4] Carrier suitability trials were conducted on board Lake Champlain; the trials were completed successfully in mid-1961.[67] The US Navy began receiving delivery of the first HSS-2 aircraft, which would be subsequently re-designated as the SH-3A, in September 1961.[7]

Sikorsky also developed a variant of the Sea King for the civil market, designated Sikorsky S-61L. The first operator of the S-61L was Los Angeles Airways, who introduced them to service on 11 March 1962.[8][68] Another variant with a conventional hull, the Sikorsky S-61R, was also concurrently developed for transport and search and rescue (SAR) duties, this type being extensively operated by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard.[10]

In late 1961 and early 1962, a modified U.S. Navy HSS-2 Sea King was used to break the FAI 3 km, 100 km, 500 km and 1000 km helicopter speed records. This series of flights culminated on 5 February 1962 with the HSS-2 setting an absolute helicopter speed record of 210.6 mph.[69] This record was broken by a modified French Sud-Aviation Super Frelon helicopter on 23 July 1963 with a speed of 217.7 mph.[70]

Further developments

SH-3H deploying a dipping sonar, 1989

In US Navy service, the initial SH-3A model of the Sea King would be progressively converted into the improved SH-3D and SH-3H variants; these featured more powerful engines and improved sensors that gave the type greater operational capabilities as an ASW platform. It was also common for Sea Kings to be converted for non-ASW activities, these roles included minesweeping, combat search and rescue, and as a cargo/passenger utility transport.[4] The aircrew on ASW-tasked Sea Kings were routinely trained to carry out these secondary roles as aircraft could often be quickly adapted to perform different missions in the face of operational needs.[71]

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) became a major operator of the type (see Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King), the Sea King continues to operate as Canada's dominant maritime helicopter 50 years following its introduction to service in 1963.[14] One notable innovation in Canadian operations, which was subsequently adopted by several other nations, was the use of a winch 'hauldown' landing method, referred to as a 'Beartrap'. This device considerably increased the ability of Sea Kings to land in difficult conditions, such as on small flight decks or during poor weather conditions.[14][72]

In addition to aircraft manufactured by Sikorsky, several license agreements were issued to other firms to produce the type, such as Mitsubishi in Japan and Agusta in Italy. Another licensee in the United Kingdom, Westland Helicopters, would substantially modify the Sea King, producing the Westland Sea King.[73][17][74] Unlike US Navy Sea Kings, the Westland Sea King was intended for greater autonomous operation.[19] In total, Westland produced 330 Sea Kings; beyond British operators, export customers of Westland's Sea King included the Indian Naval Air Arm, the German Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Norwegian Air Force.[75]

In the early 21st century, following their drawdown in US service, there have been a number of initiatives to refurbish ex-military Sea Kings for continued operations; in addition to civil operators, nations such as Egypt and India acquired refurbished former US Sea Kings to supplement their own ageing fleets.[76][77][78] While Sikorsky had ended production of the type during the 1970s, it was reported that nearly 600 Sea Kings were in operational service in 2009.[79]


SH-3A landing on the sea in 1964

The Sea King was a considerable advancement over previous helicopters. Its twin-turboshaft powerplant layout gave the SH-3 far better payload and reliability than previous anti-submarine helicopters.[4] If one engine fails, the Sea King can keep flying on a single engine.[80] Sea Kings typically had a four-man crew. A pilot and copilot in the cockpit and two aircrew in the cabin area. On anti-submarine missions, the rear aircrew operated and monitored the aircraft's detection equipment and interpreted the sensor data.[81] For search-and-rescue missions, the cabin can accommodate up to 22 survivors or nine stretchers plus two medical officers. For troop transport, up to 28 soldiers can be accommodated.

The Sea King features many design elements to support naval-orientated operations; the main rotor blades and the tail section can be folded for storage on ships. An amphibious hull allows most Sea Kings to land on and remain on the ocean's surface; deployable airbags in the aircraft's sponsons add stability and buoyancy.[5]

The armament fitted upon a Sea King could vary considerably. For anti-submarine missions, the aircraft could carry up to four torpedoes or four depth charges. For anti-ship duties, some models were outfitted to carry one or two missiles, typically Sea Eagles or Exocets.[82] The Sea King could also be fitted to deploy the B57 nuclear bomb.[83]

ASW equipment used on Sea Kings has included the AQS-13A/B/E dipping sonar, specialized computers for processing sonar and sonobuoy data, various models of sonobuoys, ARR-75 Sonobuoy Receivers, and Magnetic Anomaly Detectors. The commonly fitted AKT-22 data link enabled the rapid dissemination of gathered sonar information to other friendly elements in range.[84] Some later Sea King models featured digital navigation systems and overhauled cockpit instrumentation for night vision compatibility.[85]

Operational history

Several UH-3H Sea Kings taking off, 2003

The Sea King became operational with the United States Navy in June 1961 as the HSS-2. When the unified aircraft designation system was introduced, the aircraft's designation changed to SH-3A. It was used primarily for anti-submarine warfare: detecting and tracking Soviet submarines. In time of war, it would have attacked them as well.[86] Sea Kings could also operate from offshore platforms to extend their surveillance and strike range. Nighttime ASW operations were possible with considerable difficulty.[32][87]

The Sea King also performed various other roles and missions such as search-and-rescue, transport, anti-shipping and airborne early warning operations. Aircraft carriers would typically deploy Sea Kings to operate near the carrier as a plane guard, ready to rescue air crew who crashed during takeoff or landing.[88] They routinely transferred personnel and mail between vessels.[32]

The Sea King was exported in large numbers to Brazil, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.[89] Several operators have kept their Sea Kings in use for more than 50 years.[90][91]

During the Vietnam War, SH-3s rescued the crews of downed aircraft at sea and over land, using self-sealing fuel tanks, machine guns and armor.[92] The Sea King was also used for medical evacuations and disaster relief efforts.[32]

U.S. Marine Corps VH-3 Sea King, operating as Marine One, landing on the front lawn of the White House

The SH-3 was the primary helicopter for retrieving manned space capsules starting with Mercury-Atlas 7 in May 1962.[93] In February 1971, an SH-3A, operating from the amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans, recovered Apollo 14.[94] A specialist search and rescue variant of the SH-3, the HH-3, also performed in this capacity.[5]

Several Sea Kings, operated by the United States Marine Corps's HMX-1 unit, are used as the official helicopters of the President of the United States; in this capacity, the call sign 'Marine One' is used by the helicopter currently occupied by the President. As of 2012, a replacement helicopter fleet for the Sea King is pending under the VXX program.[95][96] In 1992, the US Justice Department sued Sikorsky over allegations of overcharged component pricing and deliberately misleading US Navy negotiators.[97] In 1997, the Justice Department issued further accusations against Sikorsky of willful overcharging on a contract to upgrade the Navy's Sea Kings.[98]

During the 1990s, the Sea King was replaced in the ASW and SAR roles by the U.S. Navy with the newer Sikorsky SH-60 Sea Hawk.[99] However, the SH-3 continued to operate in reserve units in roles including logistical support, search and rescue, and transport. On 27 January 2006, the SH-3 was ceremonially retired at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, by Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 2 (HC-2).[100] They have been replaced by increasingly advanced variants of the SH-60 Sea Hawk.[32]


A SH-3D Sea King helps recover Apollo 17. Ticonderoga is in the background
Army One, a VH-3A "Sea King" that served in the Presidential fleet from 1961-76, on permanent display at the Nixon Library
SH-3G in 1981

US military

The only prototype of the H-3 Sea King.[47]
Pre-production S-61 aircraft, seven built for the U.S. Navy,[48] re-designated YSH-3A in 1962.[47]
Anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the U.S. Navy; 245 built. Originally designated HSS-2.[4]
Combat search and rescue helicopter for the U.S. Navy. 12 converted from SH-3A.[4]
Military transport version for the U.S. Air Force; three converted from SH-3As into CH-3A configuration; they later became CH-3Bs.[49]
NH-3A (S-61F)
Experimental high-speed compound helicopter, with extensive streamlining, no floats, short wings carrying two turbojet engines for extra speed; one converted from SH-3A. Later modified with a tail rotor able to rotate 90° to serve as a pusher propeller; this helicopter demonstrated "Roto-Prop" pusher propeller for Sikorsky's S-66 design.[101]
Minesweeper helicopter for the U.S. Navy. Nine converted from SH-3A aircraft.[47]
VIP transport helicopter for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps; originally designated HSS-2Z. Eight built, plus two SH-3A conversions rebuilt from damaged helicopters (one YHSS-2 and one SH-3A). The rest were returned to the U.S. Navy in 1975–76 and replaced by the VH-3D.
Military transport helicopter for the U.S. Air Force.[48]
SH-3D (S-61B, HSS-2A)
Anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the U.S. Navy. 73 built and two conversions from SH-3As.[4]
VIP transport helicopter for the U.S. Marine Corps. It entered service in 1976.[51]
Cargo, utility transport helicopter for the U.S. Navy. 105 conversions from SH-3A and SH-3D.[4]
SH-3H (HSS-2B)
Upgrade of the SH-3G as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter for the U.S. Navy.[4] It included SH-3G features with improvements for ASW, anti-ship missile detection and other airframe improvements. 163 SH-3Gs were upgraded to SH-3H configuration.[51]
Airborne early warning version for the Spanish navy.
Cargo, utility transport version for the U.S. Navy; converted from SH-3H by removing ASW systems.[51]

Sikorsky designations

Company designation for the Sea King.[4]
Export version for the Royal Danish Air Force. Wider pontoons without flotation bags, a 530-liter center tank instead of a dipping sonar and no automatic powered folding system.[102]
S-61A-4 Nuri
Military transport, search and rescue helicopter for the Royal Malaysian Air Force. It can seat up to 31 combat troops. 38 built.[48]
Utility helicopter for survey work and search and rescue in the Antarctic.
Export version of the SH-3 anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.
Export version for the Brazilian Navy.
Export version for the Argentine Navy.
Search and rescue version for the Argentine Air Force.
Company designation for the VH-3A. One built for Indonesia.
Civil versions of the Sea King.
The S-61R served in the United States Air Force as the CH-3C/E Sea King and the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, and with the United States Coast Guard and the Italian Air Force as the HH-3F Sea King (more commonly referred to by the nickname "Pelican").[103]

United Aircraft of Canada

Canadian Sikorsky CH-124A Sea King
Anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the Royal Canadian Navy (41 assembled by United Aircraft of Canada).[54]
The Sea King Improvement Program (SKIP) added modernized avionics as well as improved safety features.[54]
Alternate version of the CH-124A without a dipping sonar but formerly with a MAD sensor and additional storage for deployable stores. In 2006, the five aircraft of this variant were converted to support the Standing Contingency Task Force (SCTF), and were modified with additional troop seats, and frequency agile radios. Plans to add fast-rope capability, EAPSNIPS (Engine Air Particle Separator / Snow & Ice Particle Separator) did not come to fruition.[54]
Six CH-124B's were upgraded to the CH-124B2 standard in 1991–1992. The revised CH-124B2 retained the sonobuoy processing gear to passively detect submarines but was also fitted with a towed-array sonar to supplement the ship's sonar. Since anti-submarine warfare is no longer a major priority within the Canadian Forces, the CH-124B2 were refitted again to become improvised troop carriers for the newly formed Standing Contingency Task Force.[54]
One CH-124 operated by the Helicopter Operational Test and Evaluation Facility located at CFB Shearwater. Used for testing new gear, and when not testing new gear, it is deployable to any Canadian Forces ship requiring a helicopter.[54]
Unofficial designation for four CH-124s that were modified for passenger/freight transport. One crashed in 1973, and the survivors were later refitted to become CH-124A's.[54]


Westland Sea King AEW.2A of the Royal Navy in 1998

The Westland Sea King variant was manufactured under license by Westland Helicopters Ltd in the United Kingdom, who developed a specially modified version for the Royal Navy. It is powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Gnome turbines (license-built T58s), and has British avionics and ASW equipment. This variant first flew in 1969, and entered service the next year. It is also used by the Royal Air Force in a search and rescue capacity, and has been sold to many countries around the world.


Company designation for the H-3 Sea King built under license in Italy by Agusta.
Italian export model for the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
Military transport, search and rescue helicopter.[55]
AS-61N-1 Silver
License built model of the S-61N, with a shortened cabin.
VIP transport helicopter.[55]
ASH-3A (SH-3G)
Utility transport helicopter
Anti-submarine warfare helicopter. Flown by the Italian, Brazilian, Iranian, Peruvian and Argentinian navies.[55]
VIP, executive transport mission helicopter. Also known as the ASH-3D/TS, the Italian Air Force operated 2 from 1975 until 2012.[55][56]
Anti-submarine warfare helicopter.[55]


License-built version of the S-61A as Search-and-Rescue and Utility helicopters for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. 18 built.
License-built version of the S-61B as an Anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. 55 built.
License-built version of the S-61B(SH-3D) as an Anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. 28 built.
License-built version of the S-61B(SH-3H) as an Anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. 23 built.


Royal Air Force Westland Sea King helicopter, a licensed derivative of the Sea King
A Brazilian Navy SH-3 Sea King on approaching USS Bunker Hill.
LASD's Rescue 5, H-3 Sea King, flies offshore of Rancho Palos Verdes.
 United States

Former operators

 Saudi Arabia
 United States

Aircraft on display

Specifications (SH-3)

Orthographically projected diagram of the SH-3 Sea King
External video
SH-3 at NAS Oceana Airshow, 2004
External and cockpit footage of Sea King start up and take off

Data from Omnifarious Sea King,[122] U.S. Navy Fact File.[1]

General characteristics
  • Crew: four (two pilots, two ASW systems operators)
  • Capacity: three passengers
  • Length: 54 ft 9 in (16.7 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 62 ft (19 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 10 in (5.13 m)
  • Disc area: 3019 ft² (284 m²)
  • Empty weight: 11,865 lb (5,382 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 18,626 lb (8,449 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 22,050 lb (10,000 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × General Electric T58-GE-10 turboshafts, 1,400 shp (1045 kW) each


  • 2× Mk 46/44 anti-submarine torpedoes (SH-3H)
  • Various sonobuoys and pyrotechnic devices
  • B-57 Nuclear depth charge

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. ^


  • Biass, Eric H. World Helicopter Systems. Geneva, Switzerland: Interavia Data, 1985.
  • Bishop, Chris and Chris Chant. Aircraft Carriers. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Zenith Imprint, 2004. ISBN 0-7603-2005-5.
  • Blair, Don. Splashdown! Nasa and the Navy. Nashville, Tennessee: Turner Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-56311-985-4.
  • Byers, R.B. The Denuclearisation of the Oceans. London: Taylor & Francis, 1986. ISBN 0-7099-3936-1.
  • Chant, Christopher. A Compendium of Armaments and Military Hardware. London: Routledge, 1988. ISBN 0-7102-0720-4.
  • Chesneau, Roger. Aeroguide 10: Westland Sea King HAR Mk 3. Essex, UK: Linewrights, 1985. ISBN 0-946958-09-2.
  • DOD 4120.15-L Model Designation of Military Aircraft, Rockets, and Guided Missiles. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1974.
  • DOD 4120.15-L Model Designation of Military Aircraft, Rockets, and Guided Missiles. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1998.
  • DOD 4120.15-L Model Designation of Military Aircraft, Rockets, and Guided Missiles. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 2004.
  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1997. ISBN 0-7607-0592-5.
  • Fieldhouse, Richard and Taoka Shunji. Superpowers at Sea: An Assessment of the Naval Arms Race. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-19829-135-3.
  • Frawley, Gerard. The International Directory of Civil Aircraft, 2003-2004. Fyshwick, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2003. ISBN 1-875671-58-7.
  • Jackson, Robert, ed. "Sikorsky S-61/SH-3 Sea King." Helicopters: Military, Civilian, and Rescue Rotorcraft (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books Ltd, 2005. ISBN 1-84013-812-2.
  • Lake, Jon. "Westland Sea King: Variant Briefing". World Air Power Journal, Volume 25, Summer 1996, pp. 110–135. London: Aerospace Publishing. ISBN 978-1-874023-79-1. ISSN 0959-7050.
  • Leoni, Ron D. Black Hawk: The Story of a World Class Helicopter. Reston, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2007. ISBN 1-56347-918-4.
  • McGowen, Stanley S. Helicopters: An Illustrated History of their Impact. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. ISBN 1-85109-468-7.
  • Marolda, Edward J. By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U. S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia. Darby, Pennsylvania: DIANE Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-7881-3250-4.
  • Uttley, Matthew. .Westland and the British Helicopter Industry, 1945–1960: Licensed Production versus Indigenous Innovation London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-7146-5194-X.
  • Williamson, Ronald M. Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-2000: An Illustrated History. Nashville, Tennessee: Turner Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-5631-1730-4.

Further reading

External links

  • S-61 Specs & Photo on
  • Sikorsky S-61/H-3/HSS-2 Database
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.