The S-2 Tracker (originally the S-2A) was the first aircraft designed from the start to operate from the U.S. Navy's new generation of anti-submarine warfare carriers. These aircraft would have the difficult task of locating and destroying enemy submarines that were outside of land-based patrol aircraft. The new design did not have to rely on speed. It just needed long endurance and the capacity to carry a wide variety of detection gear and weapons. The new design would also replace the wildly inefficient hunter/killer concept that utilized two Grumman AF-2 Guardians, in which one was equipped with detection gear to "hunt" the sub, while the other was fitted with the weapons to "kill" the enemy vessel.
The demand for such an aircraft was such that both prototypes and production aircraft were ordered at the same time. On June 30, 1950, the Navy placed orders with Grumman for two XS2F-1's and 15 S2F-1 production aircraft. With the Korean War and the fear of the "Red Menace," work rapidly proceeded and the prototype took to the air from the Bethpage, N.Y. factory for the first time on December 4, 1952 and flight testing soon revealed that the Navy and Grumman definitely had a winner. Although relatively small in size, this fully armed aircraft utilized superior electronics, including a search radar, a retractable magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) mounted in the belly of the aircraft, an instantaneous electronic countermeasure direction finder (ECM), acoustic search equipment and a very large searchlight that was mounted on the right wing of the aircraft. Weapons included bombs, mines, torpedoes and rockets.
The design was such a success and Grumman would produce 755 S2F-1's along with 60 S2F-2's that had a larger bomb bay to accommodate torpedoes and nuclear weapons. The type also enjoyed success with America's allies and Canada would license-built 100 examples, while Japan purchased 60 S2F-1's. Twenty-six would go to The Netherlands and Italy would get two dozen. Brazil would purchase 13 for operations from their carrier. Used examples were also sold to the nations of Uruguay, Thailand, Taiwan and Argentina. Once in service, many aircraft were adapted to specialized roles while Grumman went on to utilize the basic design for the C-1A Trader COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) aircraft and the E-1A Tracer utilized for early warning platform.
Grumman would deliver 100 S-2D's and 228 S-2E's for the Navy along with a further 14 for the Royal Australian Navy. Modifications and upgrades to earlier airframes resulted in the S-2G and S-2E. The final Fleet S-2G's were withdrawn from service on August 30, 1976 when VS-37 began to transition to the new Lockheed S-3 Viking, an all jet powered aircraft. The C-1 Trader and E-1 Tracer were also replaced by the C-2 Greyhound and E-2 Hawkeye respectively.
As the S-2 Trackers were being phased out by the U.S. Navy, CalFire adopted several of these retired surplus aircraft from the U.S. Government. These aircraft are still in use today and their life is being further extended with the retrofitting of Garrett turboprops, and a 1200 gallon retardant tank in the belly. In fact, some of these aircraft have seen longer service with CalFire than in military service.