The Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King was first introduced in 1961 after its initial flight in March of 1959.  As the first amphibious helicopter, the SH-3 was widely used in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and in search and rescue operations.  Though retired from US Navy service, the SH-3 remains active in several other countries throughout the world.


Design and Development of the SH-3 Sea King

During the Cold War era, the Soviet Navy began constructing a large fleet of submarines.  The United States Navy took measures to counter this threat by capitalizing on the newer technologies available on the ASW.


Sikorsky Aircraft was given the contract to build this all-weather aircraft, whose design surpassed current anti-submarine warfare and was the first to take advantage of twin-turbo shaft engines.  The use of these engines increased the payload capacity for the aircraft and its reliability - far beyond that of its predecessors.  The aircraft was also capable of combining the roles of hunter and killer – roles previously fulfilled by the use of two separate aircraft.


Operational History

As an anti-submarine warfare helicopter, the Sea King was not only capable of detecting and tracking the Soviet subs, it was designed as an attack aircraft which could be used in combat if necessary.  The SH-3 was able to perform a variety of additional roles such as search and rescue mission, transport aircraft and anti-shipping and airborne early warning missions.  These helicopters were often stationed in close proximity to aircraft carriers ready to respond to any aircraft that would crash while taking off or landing.


THE SH-3 Sea King was used during the Vietnam War as a crew rescue for downed aircraft on either land or sea.  They were also used in retrieval operations in areas that were known to be hostile.  In addition, the SH-3 provided medical evacuation and disaster relief.


Outside of combat, the SH-3 was the main aircraft used to retrieve manned space capsules.  The Sea King helicopter was also used by the US Marine Corps to transport the President of the United States.


Specifications for the SH-3 

  • Crew:  4 total – 2 pilots and 2 system operators
  • Passenger Capacity:  3
  • Maximum Take-off Weight:  22,050 lbs.
  • Maximum Speed:  166 miles per hour
  • Total Range:  621 miles
  • Climbing Rate:  1,310 – 2,220 feet per minute


Throughout its production, various modifications of this aircraft have emerged including a civilian design – the S-61L and S-61N.    Primary users of the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King have included the US Navy, the Italian Navy, Brazilian Navy and the Argentine Naval Aviation.