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Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King

Ship-based Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Helicopter

The hugely-successful Sikorsky S-61 platform has been adapted to a wide variety of roles including ASW, SAR, VIP transport and AEW forms globally.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 7/9/2019
At its peak, the Sikorsky SH-3 series of navy helicopter was a widely-used and successful platform undertaking a variety of over-water roles including Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Search And Rescue (SAR) operations. Development stemmed from a 1957 United States Navy (USN) requirement calling for a flyable prototype by 1959. A first-flight was had on March 11th, 1959 and service entry followed in 1961. Production spanned 1959 to the 1970s.

By this time in the Cold War, the Soviet Navy had put a heavy investment on its submarine force and, in response, the USN was forced to modernize its surface fleet to deal with the underwater threat. This also included strengthening its air arm for the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role and components like the Sea King were developed for just that.

The resulting Sikorsky design became a medium-class twin-engined amphibious system with the appropriate support for ASW mission equipment and shipborne operational capabilities.

The prototype was designated XHSS-2 and was a one-off example. YHSS-2 represented the preproduction form and seven were built. HSS-2 was the original in-service designation of the Sea King until the 1962 U.S. military reorganization changed this to SH-3. Hence the original HSS-2 now became the SH-3A in service. Two-hundred forty-five of this mark were produced.

The combat SAR platform was known as the HH-3A and twelve were formed from the existing SH-3A stock. CH-3A was a general military transport mark serving the USAF. Three were converted from SH-3A models and later became designated as CH-3B.

Various other designs were delivered or trialed. NH-3A (S-61F) was a compound helicopter development for high-speed tests. RH-3A was a dedicated minesweeper. VH-3A was a VIP transport of the Army and USMC. SH-3D became a ASW form and seventy-three were produced. VH-3D was its VIP form. SH-3G dealt with cargo loads and 105 were converted from the SH-3A and SH-3D stock. SH-3H was an upgraded ASW model while another offshoot became an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) form.

Canadian versions were known under the CH-124 designation and undertook their own roles under similar designations (A, B, C, etc...). The British Westland Sea King was the SH-3 built under license in the United Kingdom. Augusta of Italy also locally-produced the series under license as did Mitsubishi of Japan. Global operators ranged from Argentina and Brazil to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela - such was the popularity and effectiveness of the design.

As built, the helicopter relied on a crew of four including two pilots and a pair of ASW systems operators. There was further space for three additional personnel. Empty weight was 11,865lb against an MTOW of 22,050lb. Power was from 2 x General Electric T58-GE-10 series turboshaft engines developing 1,400 horsepower each and driving a five-bladed main rotor and five-bladed tail rotor (set to portside). The tricycle undercarriage was wheeled and retractable at the two main legs.

Performance-wise, the SH-3 held a maximum speed of 166 miles per hour, a range out to 620 miles and a service ceiling of 14,700 feet. Rate-of-climb was up to 2,220 feet per minute.

Armament was typically one or two Mark 44 or Mark 46 anti-submarine homing torpedoes but the platform was also able to deliver the B-57 nuclear depth charge, conventional naval depth charges and be equipped with door-mounted machine guns for local defense.

In service, SH-3 helicopters were called upon to accomplish one of the more important roles in fleet defense - protection from enemy submarines. As such, the aircraft was typically the first platform aloft during anti-submarine operations, an indication of the importance of the type to any global navy service. Aided by the AQS-81B dipping sonar, MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector), sonobuoys, search-tracking radar and a fleet-wide link-up, the Sea King could provide the entire fleet with results of its readings as well as attack threats directly. Chaff pods were equipped for defense against enemy Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs).

The Sea King series developed into a versatile performer that also allowed for MEDEVAC and basic transport sorties. In the former, over twenty wounded could be carried aloft or these personnel replaced by nine medical litters. Additionally, some twenty-eight combat-ready troops could be ferried about when equipped for the passenger transport role. An interesting facet of the Sea King's design was its ability to land directly on the surface of the water. Though it was inherently limited in the total time it could stay afloat, the helicopter was designed to support this feature in the event a water landing was required (rescuing a downed airman for example). However, as useful as this feature may have seemed, it remained seldom used throughout the career of the SH-3.

The Sea King went on to appear in other notable guises during its prime service years, most notably in the form of "Marine One" - the VIP transport helicopter for the President of the United States (operated by the United States Marine Corps service). SH-3's were also noted in their use during the recovery of the Apollo 14 space crew upon their landing in the ocean. The HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant" was developed from the S-61R and serve the USAF very well in the SARs role during the Vietnam Conflict. The HH-3F was known as the "Pelican" to the USCG and used in SAR.

In USN service, the SH-3 was superseded by the Sikorsky SH-60 "Sea Hawk", a variant of the venerable U.S. Army UH-60 "Blackhawk" helicopter. Formal USN retirement for the SH-3 was 2006.

Some global operators of the Sea King remain as of this writing (2019) though the helicopter's best days are clearly behind it.


Active, In-Service
[ 1,100 Units ] :
Sikorsky Aircraft - USA / Westland - UK
National flag of Argentina National flag of Australia National flag of Belgium National flag of Brazil National flag of Canada National flag of Denmark National flag of Egypt National flag of Germany National flag of India National flag of Iran National flag of Iraq National flag of Ireland National flag of Italy National flag of Japan National flag of Malaysia National flag of Norway National flag of Pakistan National flag of Peru National flag of Qatar National flag of Saudi Arabia National flag of Spain National flag of Thailand National flag of United Kingdom National flag of United States National flag of Venezuela Argentina; Australia; Belgium; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Egypt; Germany; India; Iran; Iraq; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Malaysia, Norway; Pakistan; Peru; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Spain; Thailand; Venezuela; United Kingdom; United States
- Ground Attack
- Close-Air Support (CAS)
- Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
- Anti-Ship
- Navy / Maritime
- VIP Transport
54.79 ft (16.7 m)
62.34 ft (19 m)
16.90 ft (5.15 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King production model)
Empty Weight:
11,872 lb (5,385 kg)
22,046 lb (10,000 kg)
(Diff: +10,174lb)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King production model)
2 x General Electric T58-GE-10 turboshaft engines developing 1,400 horsepower each and driving a five-blade main rotor and five-blade tail rotor.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King production model)
Maximum Speed:
166 mph (267 kph; 144 kts)
Service Ceiling:
14,698 feet (4,480 m; 2.78 miles)
Maximum Range:
621 miles (1,000 km; 540 nm)
2,000 ft/min (610 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
Mission Variable:
2 OR 4 x Mark 44 OR Mark 46 torpedoes.
2 x Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs).
4 x Naval depth charges OR B-57 nuclear depth charge.
2 x 7.62mm Machine guns at door pintle (trainable) mountings.

Up to 840lb of ordnance (launched or air-dropped) and/or specialized mission equipment. Door guns optional and only available on some production models.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King production model)
XHSS S-2 - Single Example Prototype of the H-3
YHS S-2 - Development and Test Aircraft; seven examples produced.
S-61 - Sikorsky Company Designation
S-61A - Export Designation for Royal Danish AF usage
S-61A Nuri - Export Designation for Malaysian AF usage; dedicated troop transport; seating for 31.
S-61A/AH - Utility Model for Antarctica sear and rescue (SAR) operations
S-61B - Export Designation for Japanese MSDF usage; based on SH-3 model; anti-submarine warfare version.
S-61D-3 - Export Model Designation for Brazil
S-61D-4 - Export Model Designation for Argentina
S-61NR - Search and rescue (SAR) model for Argentine usage.
S-61L/N - Civilian Model of the Sea King
S-61R - Sikorsky company designation for CH-3C/E and HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant" models serving with USAF, USCG and Italian forces.
S-61V - Single Example Model produced for Indonesia; Sikorsky company designation for VH-3A.
HSS-2 - Original Production Series Designation
CH-3A - USAF Dedicated Transport Model; conversions from SH-3A models; 3 examples converted as such.
CH-3B - USAF Dedicated Transport Model
CH-124 - Canadian Naval Model; anti-submarine warfare version
HH-3A - SH-3A model conversions to search and rescue (SAR) aircraft; 12 examples converted as such.
NH-3A (S-61F) - Experimental Variant conversion from SH-3A model; fitted with turbojet engines and wing structures; single example model.
RH-3A - Dedicated Minesweeper; 9 examples converted from SH-3A.
SH-3A - Initial Production Model; dedicated anti-submarine warfare model; fitted with T58-GE8B turboshaft engines of 1,260 horsepower; 245 examples produced.
SH-3D - Upgraded SH-3 Model
SH-3D-TS - Anti-Submarine Warfare Model
SH-3G - Utility/Cargo Model for US Navy
SH-3H - Multirole/General Purpose Anti-Submarine Model; dipping sonar; MAD gear; search radar; for US Navy
SH-3H AEW - Airborne Early Warning Model.
UH-3H - Utility/Cargo Transport Model for US Navy
VH-3A - US Army and Marines VIP Transport Model
VH-3D - US Marine Corps VIP Transport Model
AS-61/ASH-3 - Agusta Production Designation built under license in Italy.
AS-61A-1 - Italian Export Model Designation for Royal Malaysian AF use.
AS-61A-4 - Agusta license production model; search and rescue and military transport model.
AS-61N-1 Silver - Agusta License Production Model of the S-61N but with shorter cabin area.
AS-61VIP - Agusta license production model; VIP passenger transport model.
ASH-3A - Agusta license production model; multi-purpose utility transport model.
ASH-3D - Agusta license production model; anti-submarine warfare version
ASH-3TS (ASH-3D/TS) - Agusta license production executive VIP transport model.
ASH-3H - Agusta license production model; anti-submarine warfare version
Sea King HAS.Mk 1 - Initial Sea King production model produced under license by Westland in the United Kingdom based on a re-engined SH-3D model; fitted with 2 x Rolls-Royce H.1400 Gnome series engines.
Sea King HAS.Mk 2 - Westland license production
Sea King HAS.Mk 5 - Westland license production
Sea King HAS.Mk 6 - Westland license production
Sea King AEW.Mk 2A - Westland license production; dedicated AEW variant; conversion of HAS.Mk 2 models.
Sea King AEW.Mk 5 - Westland license production; dedicated AEW variant; conversion of HAS.Mk 5 models.
Sea King AEW.Mk 7 - Westland license production; dedicated AEW variant; conversion of HAS.Mk 5 models.
Sea King HAR.Mk 3 - Westland license production; search and rescue (SAR) derivative.
Sea King HAR.Mk 3A -Westland license production; search and rescue (SAR) derivative.
S-61A - Mitsubishi license production; based on S-61A model; search and rescue and utility platform.
HSS-2 -Mitsubishi license production; based on the S-61B model; anti-submarine warfare series.
HSS-2A -Mitsubishi license production; based on the S-61B (SH-3D) model; anti-submarine warfare series.
HSS-2B -Mitsubishi license production; based on the S-61B (SH-3H) model; anti-submarine warfare series.

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