Saturday, December 21, 2013

Viking History Redux

Sarge asked me to regale you with some stories of my time in the Mighty War Hoover.  I don't have any stories of us shooting down Libyan MiGs, or sinking any Russian Akulas, but there are some interesting anecdotes in the history of the Lockheed Martin S-3 Viking.

Hijacker Hauler-

The Italian Cruise Ship Achille Lauro was hijacked by Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists on October 7th 1985.  After two days of negotiations, the terrorists departed the ship and escaped aboard an Egyptian airliner.  The jet was intercepted by F-14 Tomcats from CVW-17 and forced to land at NAS Sigonella Sicily.

One of those hijackers was brought to the U.S. after being handcuffed and stuffed into the tunnel of aVS-30 Diamondcutters S-3A.  He was escorted by two FBI agents who evicted the TACCO and SENSO from their seats for the TRANSLANT flight.

Hussein Hunter-

From 1999 to 2003 various systems were installed in an S-3B to give it an entirely new mission set- Medium Duration Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). By  the time the upgrade was completed, the aircraft was fitted with Ultra High Resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (UHR/SAR) imagery, Joint Tactical Information distribution System (JTIDS) Link-16, Real Time Sensor Data Link (RTSDL) and the AN/AYK-23 Digital Computer.  Finally, a long range Electro Optical/Infra Red (EO/IR) sensor capable of real time data link to ground and airborne stations was installed just prior to aircraft delivery in the Arabian Gulf in March 2003.  The SSU Viking (Surveillance System Upgrade) brought tremendous ISR capability to the USS NIMITZ Strike Group and the Dragonfires of Sea Control Squadron Two-Nine, AKA Torpedo Bomber Squadron 29.
The WESCAM EO/IR Sensor is visible under the
aircraft just forward of the left mainmount

The SSU spent its time in the gulf running two missions each day.  The morning flights kept an eye on the Iranians, and after a quick turn and crew swap, the afternoon flights were overland in Iraq, conducting surveillance on a long target set.  During one of those flights in July, the SSU was diverted from its regular tasking to observe a house in northern Iraq.  As the aircraft circled overhead, the crew observed everyone showing up for a party.  It was not so much a party as it was a beat-down.  The house was the location of Uday and Qusay Hussein.  From the wiki page about Uday: " He was killed along with his brother by a secretive combined Special Operations Task Force during a three-hour gunfight in Mosul." And the SSU crew had a front row seat.

I was back onboard by then, but had spent the remainder of the spring until just a few weeks before that flight as the Airwing LNO (Liaison Officer) in the CAOC at both Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, and then at Al Udeid, Qatar.  Getting the SSU on the ISR slide for the morning brief was a big accomplishment for my squadron while I was there, but our missions were so short (about 6 hrs max), and the orbits for the MQ-1 Predator dwarfed ours.  

CAOC in either PSAB or Al Udeid.  Notice the Viking on the right screen.
Once we were back in San Diego, we were told that despite the success of the SSU program, the Navy wouldn't pursue it as a more expanded program of record for other squadrons.  I remember someone at the CAOC stating that in 10 years, we'd be replaced by UAVs.  In reality, it was only about 5, with the number and capability of UAV just exploding.  The only saving grace was that the aircraft wasn't going to the boneyard.  Our paint shop spent some time painting the jet like the CAG bird, with squadron colors and symbols on the vertical stabilizer.  We then transferred the jet to the VS-41 Shamrocks for them to move the bird over to the Midway Museum for us, as VS-29 was disestablished in April of 2004.

The SSU Viking, now on permanent display onboard the USS MIDWAY Museum

Unfortunately, the paint job which included the name of yours truly at the COTAC station under the canopy on the right side of the aircraft, as well as names of the CO and 2 other officers, was painted over by VS-41.  A paint job that remains to this day.

Anti-Surface Warfare-

During that same deployment for OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, the Red Griffins of VS-38 onboard the USS CONSTELLATION (CV-64) made Viking history by firing an AGM-65E Maverick missile into Saddam Hussein's 6000 ton presidential yacht which was in port in Basra Harbor.  The unarmed yacht was considered a priority target due to the possibility that Saddam could use it to escape Iraq, or as a command node due to its extensive communications suite.  The mission was planned by LCDR Carlos "Santana" Sardiello who flew the mission with LCDR Richard "Dick" McGrath.  The mission was flown in conjunction with an F-18 from VFA-151 which lazed the target for VS-38. The yacht was later used for CVW-14 target practice with as many as 16 LGBs pumped into it over the next few days.

12 years earlier, An S-3B crew from the Maulers of VS-32 destroyed an Iraqi gunboat using three 500lb MK-82 bombs.  It was well known within the community that after VS-32 pickled off its last weapon, they used a drop tank to finish off a second gunboat.   Also during Desert Storm, the Scouts of VS-24 took out an anti-aircraft site with Mk-82s.

Desert Vikings-

Just a year from disestablishment, the Checkmates from VS-22 deployed to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.  Following in the footsteps of VS-32 earlier that year, the squadron was outfitted with  four LANTIRN pods which gave the crews the mission of non-traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (NTISR).

Read more about the Desert Vikings here.  

My two Fleet squadrons, VS-21 and VS-29 had already gone by the wayside by then, with VS-29 being the first of two squadrons to be disestablished (along with VS-38).  The San Diego Union Tribune had a nice write up at the time, putting us on the front page above the fold.  Unfortunately the linked version doesn't have the same pictures that were in the print article.

Some less interesting stories about my time in the community include the worst a$$-chewing I ever received in my life.  After an F-14 from the VF-154 Black Knights had experienced trapped fuel and a loss of one hydraulic system, the jet was diverted to Kadena Japan.  

LT Chris "CB" Burton and I were doing a double-cycle recovery tanker mission overhead.  Due to the trapped fuel, the Tomcat couldn't make it all the way to Okinawa so we were tasked to refuel them along the way, refilling their internal tanks several times as they burned down.  The flight to Kadena was uneventful, and once we landed, we called back to the ship and were given a overhead time for the next day and a position for the ship.  

During the night however, the Viking tanker fleet on the USS INDEPENDENCE (CV-62) went to hell in a handbasket.  Unbeknownst to us, every tanker package, save one, was sour and  we were needed back for the first launch, vice the end of the second cycle as previously discussed with our OPSO.  Also, the ship had transited much further south, and wasn't going to be where we expected her to be.  That would add an extra 55 minutes of flight time to our trip back.  And to add insult to injury, our O2 level was below NATOPS limits for launch, and the helpful USAF transient line personnel were unable to refill it after spending much longer than expected to work on it.  We knew we had to get back however, and we made the command decision to launch without the required minimum, still having 4 of 10 liters available.  After waving to some Taiwanese F-5s on the trip south, and a frantic search for the boat using our ESM and Radar, we landed on fumes, further exacerbating the tanker shortage.  The CO was NOT HAPPY and we later became a teaching point for all divert crew. "Don't do what Tuna and CB did" became the semi-mantra during crew training and Mission Commander boards.  What we did, was not look for an overhead message telling us exactly when and where to arrive, thinking the phone call was sufficient.  

I know there's more history out there which I may share in the future, but for now I'll leave you with a couple more pictures.

VS-35 Class A mishap one Christmas eve.


  1. VS-35 Class A mishap one Christmas eve.

    The icing on a very tasty cake.

  2. Your best yet Tuna! I absolutely love that last photo.

  3. That picture of Kadena, I think I was the supervisor of flying that day. As I recall, the call was "War Hoover 01 2 miles, gear down full stop" Confounded the tower people, until I said, " look up" several OMGs later. Voila' a standard USN arrival.

  4. Heh... Yep, and a friend was the RIO in the F-14 on that takedown... We were the det P-3 crew that was boring holes that night too.

  5. Terrorist extradition story is a little mixed up. The four AL guys were taken by the Carabinieri and tried in Italian courts, since Sig is an Italian base. The S3, piloted by Phil Voss, had a hijacker, Fawaz Younis. Whole story is told here:

  6. AS a Viking Maintianer on East coast I really enjoyed this page, and was very happy to hear the story of VS-32 sinking that boat, that Bird kept it's "Mission Badge" showing a Buddy Store broken in two for many years after


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