A rare S-3B Viking aircraft from NASA considered pivotal to naval aviation history arrive Tuesday in San Diego, where it will be permanently housed at the San Diego Air & Space Museum's El Cajon Gillespie Field Annex.
"We're just thrilled that the last S-3 ever is coming home to San Diego Air and Space Museum and really coming home. This is the home of the S-3," said Jim Kidrick, the museum's president and CEO.
Kidrick said the S-3B Viking aircraft is "one of the most iconic the annals of
naval aviation history."
Photos: ‘Time to Retire': Rare Aircraft From NASA Finds New Home With San Diego Air and Space Museum
NASA's S-3B is the last flight-worthy Viking in the world. Originally designed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Navy as an anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the Viking was put out of active service by the U.S. Navy in 2009.
NASA's S-3B Viking was completely reconfigured in 2006 for flight research purposes. All weapons systems were removed and replaced with civilian avionics, GPS, and satellite communications systems to conduct flight communications research.
One of its major contributions was helping NASA's aeronautical innovators define communications standards that the Federal Aviation Administration can apply to the unmanned aircraft systems for safe operation in U.S. airspace.
But it's time for NASA to retire the aircraft, said Jim Demers, NASA’s Glenn Research Center Flight Operations Manager, who piloted the plane to San Diego. It was a moment he called bittersweet.
"I've been flying this aircraft for over 25 years. Took it to NASA and we've been flying it at NASA for 10 or 15 now and it's time -- it's time to retire the aircraft," Demers said. "We're moving on to new technology, new testing."
"It brings a tear to my eye that we have to stop. It's actually flying, I think, better than it ever has, but it's time."
The Viking departed Cleveland, Ohio, Tuesday morning and stopped in El Paso, Texas, where it will remained for an hour before departing for San Diego.
After a scheduled flyover of North Island Naval Air Station, the aircraft was flown to Gillespie Field and found its new home at the museum's annex at 335 Kenney St.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum is California's official air and space museum and education center. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and is located in Balboa Park.