Boeing E-3 Sentry


The Boeing E-3 Sentry is an American airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft developed by Boeing. E-3s are commonly known as AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System). Derived from the Boeing 707 airliner, it provides all-weather surveillance, command, control, and communications, and is used by the United States Air Force, NATO, French Air and Space Force, Royal Saudi Air Force and Chilean Air Force. The E-3 has a distinctive rotating radar dome (rotodome) above the fuselage. Production ended in 1992 after 68 aircraft had been built.

E-3 Sentry
Aerial view port view of white jet aircraft in-flight. It has a large disc-like black radar lying horizontally above two convergent struts.
An E-3 Sentry of the United States Air Force
Role Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C)
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing Defense, Space & Security
First flight EC-137D: 9 February 1972
E-3: 25 May 1976[1]
Introduction March 1977
Status In service
Primary users United States Air Force
Royal Air Force (retired)
Royal Saudi Air Force
Produced 1977–1992
Number built 68
Developed from Boeing 707

In the mid-1960s, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) was seeking an aircraft to replace its piston-engined Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star, which had been in service for over a decade. After issuing preliminary development contracts to three companies, the USAF picked Boeing to construct two airframes to test Westinghouse Electric and Hughes's competing radars. Both radars used pulse-Doppler technology, with Westinghouse's design emerging as the contract winner. Testing on the first production E-3 began in October 1975.

The first USAF E-3 was delivered in March 1977, and during the next seven years, a total of 34 aircraft were manufactured. E-3s were also purchased by NATO (18), the United Kingdom (7), France (4) and Saudi Arabia (5). In 1991, when the last aircraft had been delivered, E-3s participated in the Persian Gulf War, playing a crucial role of directing coalition aircraft against Iraqi forces.

The aircraft was also the last of the Boeing 707 derivatives after 34 years of continuous production. The aircraft's capabilities have been maintained and enhanced through numerous upgrades. In 1996, Westinghouse Electric's Defense & Electronic Systems division was acquired by Northrop Corporation, before being renamed Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, which currently supports the E-3's radar. In April 2022, the U.S. Air Force announced that the Boeing E-7 is to replace the E-3 beginning in 2027.[2]

Development edit

Background edit

In 1963, the USAF asked for proposals for an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) to replace its EC-121 Warning Stars, which had served in the airborne early warning role for over a decade.[3] The new aircraft would take advantage of improvements in radar technology and computer-aided radar data analysis and data reduction. These developments allowed airborne radars to "look down", i.e. to detect the movement of low-flying aircraft, and discriminate, even over land, target aircraft's movements; previously this had been impossible due to the inability to discriminate an aircraft's track from ground clutter.[4] Contracts were issued to Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed, the latter being eliminated in July 1966. In 1967, a parallel program was put into place to develop the radar, with Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Hughes Aircraft being asked to compete in producing the radar system. In 1968, it was referred to as Overland Radar Technology (ORT) during development tests on the modified EC-121Q.[5][6] The Westinghouse radar antenna was going to be used by whichever company won the radar competition since Westinghouse had pioneered the design of high-power radio frequency (RF) phase-shifters, which are used to both focus the RF into a pencil beam and scan electronically for altitude determination.

The piston-engined EC-121 Warning Star, military version of the Lockheed Constellation, saw service in the mid-1950s.

Boeing initially proposed a purpose-built aircraft, but tests indicated it would not outperform the already-operational 707, so the latter was chosen instead. To increase endurance, this design was to be powered by eight General Electric TF34s. It would carry its radar in a rotating dome mounted at the top of a forward-swept tail, above the fuselage.[4][7] Boeing was selected ahead of McDonnell Douglas's DC-8-based proposal in July 1970. Initial orders were placed for two aircraft, designated EC-137D, as test beds to evaluate the two competing radars. As the test beds did not need the same 14-hour endurance demanded of the production aircraft, the EC-137s retained the Pratt & Whitney JT3D commercial engines, and a later reduction in the endurance requirement led to retention of the JT3D engines in production.[6][8]

The first EC-137 made its maiden flight on 9 February 1972, with the fly-off between the two radars taking place from March to July of that year.[5] Favorable test results led to the selection of Westinghouse's radar for the production aircraft.[9] Hughes' radar was initially thought to be a certain winner due to its related development of the APG-63 radar for the new F-15 Eagle. The Westinghouse radar used a pipelined fast Fourier transform (FFT) to digitally resolve 128 Doppler frequencies, while Hughes's radars used analog filters based on the design for the F-15. Westinghouse's engineering team won this competition by using a programmable 18-bit computer whose software could be modified before each mission. This computer was the AN/AYK-8 design from the B-57G program, and designated AYK-8-EP1 for its much expanded memory. This radar also multiplexed a beyond-the-horizon (BTH) pulse mode that could complement the pulse-Doppler radar mode. This proved to be beneficial especially when the BTH mode is used to detect ships at sea when the radar beam is directed below the horizon.[10]

Full-scale development edit

Approval was given on 26 January 1973 for the full-scale development of the AWACS system. To allow further development of the aircraft's systems, orders were placed for three preproduction aircraft, the first of which performed its maiden flight in February 1975. IBM and Hazeltine were selected to develop the mission computer and display system. The IBM computer was designated 4PI, and the software was written in JOVIAL. A Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) or back-up interceptor control (BUIC) operator would immediately be at home with the track displays and tabular displays, but differences in symbology would create compatibility problems in tactical ground radar systems in Iceland, mainland Europe, and South Korea over Link-11 (TADIL-A). In 1977, Iran placed an order for ten E-3s, however this order was cancelled following the Iranian Revolution.

Welcome ceremony for first E-3 aircraft at Tinker AFB in 1977

Engineering, test and evaluation began on the first E-3 Sentry in October 1975. Between 1977 and 1992, a total of 68 E-3s were built.[11][12][13]

Future status edit

Because the Boeing 707 is no longer in production, the E-3 mission package has been fitted into the Boeing E-767 for the Japan Air Self Defense Forces. The E-10 MC2A was intended to replace USAF E-3s—along with the RC-135 and the E-8 Joint STARS, but the program was canceled by the Department of Defense.

NATO intends to extend the operational status of its AWACS until 2035 when it is due to be replaced by the Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) program.[14][15] The Royal Air Force (RAF) chose to limit investment in its E-3D fleet in the early 2000s, diverting Sentry upgrade funds to a replacement program.[16] On 22 March 2019, the UK Defence Secretary announced a $1.98 billion (~$2.25 billion in 2022) contract to purchase five E-7 Wedgetails.[17] The U.S. Air Force intends to retire 15 of its 31 E-3s and acquire the E-7.[18]

On 31 March 2023, the USAF retired an E-3 from service for the first time.[19]

Design edit

Overview edit

Close-up rotodome revolving at 6 revolutions per minute.[20]

The E-3 Sentry's airframe is a modified Boeing 707-320B Advanced model. Modifications include a rotating radar dome (rotodome), uprated hydraulics from 241 to 345 bar (3500–5000 PSI) to drive the rotodome,[21] single-point ground refueling, air refueling, and a bail-out tunnel or chute. A second bail-out chute was deleted to cut mounting costs.[22]

USAF and NATO E-3s have an unrefueled range of 7,400 km (4,600 mi) or 8 hours of flying.[citation needed] The newer E-3 versions bought by France, Saudi Arabia, and the UK are equipped with newer CFM56-2 turbofan engines, and these can fly for about 11 hours or more than 9,250 km (5,750 mi).[23] The Sentry's range and on-station time can be increased through air-to-air refueling and the crews can work in shifts by the use of an on-board crew rest and meals area. The aircraft are equipped with one toilet in the rear, and a urinal behind the cockpit. Saudi E-3s were delivered with an additional toilet in the rear.[11][12]

When deployed, the E-3 monitors an assigned area of the battlefield and provides information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain control of the battle; while as an air defense asset, E-3s can detect, identify, and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the U.S. or NATO countries and can direct interceptor aircraft to these targets.[11] In support of air-to-ground operations, the E-3 can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift, and close-air support for friendly ground forces.[11]

Avionics edit

The unpressurized rotodome is 30 ft (9.1 m) in diameter, 6 ft (1.8 m) thick at the center, and is held 11 ft (3.4 m) above the fuselage by 2 struts.[11] It is tilted down at the front to reduce its aerodynamic drag, which lessens its detrimental effect on take-offs and endurance. This tilt is corrected electronically by both the radar and secondary surveillance radar antenna phase shifters. The rotodome uses bleed air, outside cooling doors, and fluorocarbon-based cold plate cooling to maintain the electronic and mechanical equipment temperatures. The hydraulically rotated antenna system permits the AN/APY-1 [uk] and AN/APY-2 passive electronically scanned array radar system[citation needed] to provide surveillance from the Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water.

Air controllers aboard a US E-3 during Operation Provide Comfort

Other major subsystems in the E-3 Sentry are navigation, communications, and computers. 14 consoles display computer-processed data in graphic and tabular format on screens. Its operators perform surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and communications functions.[11] Data may be forwarded in real-time to any major command and control center in rear areas or aboard ships. In times of crisis, data may also be forwarded to the National Command Authority in the U.S. via RC-135 or aircraft carrier task forces.[11]

Electrical generators mounted in each of the E-3's four engines provide 1 megawatt of electrical power required by the aircraft's radars and electronics.[citation needed] Its pulse-Doppler radar has a range of more than 250 mi (400 km) for low-flying targets at its operating altitude, and the pulse (BTH) radar has a range of approximately 400 mi (650 km) for aircraft flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar, combined with a secondary surveillance radar (SSR) and electronic support measures (ESM), provides a look down capability, to detect, identify, and track low-flying aircraft, while eliminating ground clutter returns.[11][12][24]

Upgrades edit

The command & comms consoles.

Between 1987 and 2001, USAF E-3s were upgraded under the "Block 30/35 Modification Program".[citation needed] Enhancements included:

  • The installation of ESM and an electronic surveillance capability, for both active and passive means of detection.
  • Installation of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS), which provides rapid and secure communication for transmitting information, including target positions and identification data, to other friendly platforms.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) capability was added.
  • Onboard computers were overhauled to accommodate JTIDS, Link-16, the new ESM systems and to allow for future enhancements.[citation needed]

RSIP edit

The Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) was a joint US/NATO development program.[11] RSIP enhances the operational capability of the E-3 radars' electronic countermeasures, and improves the system's reliability, maintainability, and availability.[11] Essentially, this program replaced the older transistor-transistor logic (TTL) and emitter-coupled logic (MECL) electronic components, long-since out of production, with off-the-shelf computers that utilised a High-level programming language instead of assembly language. Significant improvement came from adding pulse compression to the pulse-Doppler mode.[10] These hardware and software modifications improve the E-3 radars' performance, providing enhanced detection with an emphasis towards low radar cross-section (RCS) targets.[11]

The RAF had also joined the USAF in adding RSIP to upgrade the E-3's radars. The retrofitting of the E-3 squadrons was completed in December 2000. Along with the RSIP upgrade was installation of the Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems which improved positioning accuracy. In 2002, Boeing was awarded a contract to add RSIP to the small French AWACS squadron. Installation was completed in 2006.[11][25] Saudi Arabia began RSIP upgrades in 2013; the first aircraft being upgraded by Boeing in Seattle with the four remaining aircraft upgraded in Riyadh between 2014 and 2016.[citation needed]

NATO Mid Term Program edit

Between 2000 and 2008 NATO upgraded its E-3s to Mid Term Program (MTP) standard. This involved technical upgrades and a total multi-sensor-systems integration[26]


In 2009, the USAF, in cooperation with NATO, entered into a major flight deck avionics modernization program in order to maintain compliance with worldwide airspace mandates. The program, called DRAGON (for DMS Replacement of Avionics for Global Operation and Navigation), was awarded to Boeing and Rockwell Collins in 2010. Drawing on their Flight2 flight management system (FMS), almost all the avionics were replaced with more modern digital equipment from Rockwell Collins. Main upgrades include a Digital Audio Distribution System, Mode-5/ADS-B transponder, Inmarsat and VDL datalinks, and a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS). The centerpiece flight deck hardware consists of five 6x8 color graphics displays and two color CDUs. DRAGON laid the foundation for subsequent upgrades including GPS M-Code, Iridium ATC, and Autopilot. USAF DRAGON Production began in 2018.[27]

USAF Block 40/45 edit

In 2014 the USAF began upgrading block 30/35 E-3B/Cs into block 40/45 E-3Gs. This upgrade replaces the main flight computer with a Red Hat Linux-based system, as well as replacing the DOS 2.0-like operating system with a Windows 95-like system on the operator workstations.[28] In 2016, a three-week long cybersecurity vulnerability test revealed that the 40/45 block and its supporting ground equipment were vulnerable to cyber threats, and were thus deemed "not survivable."[29] This caused a delay of approximately two years.[30] Twenty-four E-3s are projected to complete this upgrade to 40/45 by the end of fiscal year 2020, while seven aircraft will be retired to save upgrade costs and harvest out-of-production components.[31]

NATO Final Lifetime Extension Program edit

NATO intends to extend the operational status of its AWACS until 2035 by significantly upgrading fourteen aircraft in the Final Lifetime Extension Program (FLEP) between 2019 and 2026.[14] Upgrades include the expansion of data capacity, expansion of bandwidth for satellite communications, new encryption equipment, new HAVE QUICK radios, upgraded mission computing software and new operator consoles. The supporting ground systems (mission training center and mission planning and evaluation system) will also be upgraded to the latest standard. NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Program Management Agency (NAPMA) is the preparing and executing authority for the FLEP. FLEP will be combined with the standard planned higher echelon technical maintenance.[32]

Operational history edit

United States edit

In March 1977 the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing received the first E-3 aircraft at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.[11] The 34th and last USAF Sentry was delivered in June 1984.[33] The USAF has a total of thirty E-3s in active service. Twenty-six are stationed at Tinker AFB and belong to the Air Combat Command (ACC). Four are assigned to the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and stationed at Kadena AB, Okinawa and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. One aircraft (TS-3) was assigned to Boeing for testing and development (retired/scrapped June 2012).[11]

E-3 Sentry aircraft were among the first to deploy during Operation Desert Shield, where they established a radar screen to monitor Iraqi forces. During Operation Desert Storm, E-3s flew 379 missions and logged 5,052 hours of on-station time.[34] The data collection capability of the E-3 radar and computer subsystems allowed an entire air war to be recorded for the first time.[citation needed] In addition to providing senior leadership with time-critical information on the actions of enemy forces, E-3 controllers assisted in 38 of the 41 air-to-air kills recorded during the conflict.[11][34]

NATO, UK, French and USAF AWACS played an important role in the air campaign against Serbia and Montenegro in the former republic of FR Yugoslavia. From March to June 1999 the aircraft were deployed in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (operation Allied Force) directing allied strike and air defence aircraft to and from their targets.[35] Over 1,000 aircraft operating from bases in Germany and Italy took part in the air campaign which was intended to destroy Yugoslav air defenses and high-value targets such as the bridges across the Danube river, factories, power stations, telecommunications facilities, and military installations.

On 18 November 2015, an E-3G was deployed to the Middle East to begin flying combat missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIL, marking the first combat deployment of the upgraded Block 40/45 aircraft.[36]

United Kingdom edit

A Royal Air Force E-3 Sentry over North Yorkshire

In February 1987 the UK and France ordered E-3 aircraft in a joint project which saw deliveries start in 1991.[37] The British requirement arose due to the cancellation of the BAE Nimrod AEW3 project. UK E-3Ds formed the E-3D Component of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEWCF), receiving much of their tasking directly from NATO. However, RAF E-3Ds remain UK manned and capable of independent, national tasking. This has been done on numerous occasions, notably when E-3Ds were committed to operations over Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.[38]

The UK fleet has slowly been reduced from 7 since 2011. In 2009, the UK effectively limited the service life of the E-3D fleet by de-funding the Project Eagle upgrade which would have seen it upgraded in line with the USAF Block 40/45 standard.[39][40] AirForces Monthly reported that by December 2020, just 2 aircraft were available for operations at any one time.[39] The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 had announced the intention to retain the E-3D fleet until 2035, however in March 2019, the Ministry of Defence announced that the E-3Ds would be replaced by five E-7 Wedgetails from 2023.[41][42] The £1.51 billion contract was awarded to Boeing without a competitive procurement process, a decision criticised by both competitors of Boeing and the UK's Defence Select Committee.[39][43] The 2021 Integrated Defence Review confirmed a reduced order of three aircraft.[44] On 27 January 2015, the RAF deployed an E-3D Sentry to Cyprus in support of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.[45] The last intended operational flight by an RAF E3 Sentry was supposed to be in July 2021 with the Sentry retired from service, however RAF ZH101 and ZH106 have both flown patrols over Poland / Eastern Europe during Russia's incursions into Ukraine during late February / March 2022.[citation needed]

France edit

In February 1987 the UK and France ordered E-3 aircraft in a joint project which saw deliveries start in 1991.[37] France operates its E-3F aircraft independently of NATO.[38] France operates four aircraft, all fitted with the newer CFM56-2 engines.[12]

In early 2024, there were reports that France is looking to the Swedish Saab GlobalEye to replace its AWACS aircraft.[46]

Chile edit

3 Boeing E-3D Sentry (Sentry AEW.1) aircraft, acquired second hand from the United Kingdom in September 2021, arrived in Chile in July 2022; units ZH103 and ZH106 will join the "Grupo de Aviación N.º 10" of the II Air Brigade.[47][48]

NATO edit

NATO acquired 18 E-3As and support equipment, with the first aircraft delivered in January 1982.[49] The aircraft are registered in Luxembourg. The eighteen E-3s were operated by Number 1, 2 and 3 Squadrons of NATO's E-3 Component, based at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen.[49]

NATO E-3s participated in Operation Eagle Assist after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.[50] NATO and RAF E-3s participated in the military intervention in Libya.[51]

From January 2011 to September 2014, NATO E-3s were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, Afghanistan, as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. The aircraft were used for air traffic control of military aircraft over the country, as well as surveillance, and tactical management of friendly aircraft. During the mission to Afghanistan, NATO E-3s flew 1,240 missions and accumulated 12,240 flying hours.[52][53]

Presently, 14 NATO E-3As are in the inventory, since one E-3 was lost in a crash and three were retired from service in 2015, 2017, and 2018.[33][54][55][56] The first was due for its six-year cycle Depot Level Maintenance (DLM) inspection which would have been very costly. The "449 Retirement Project" resulted in reclamation of critical parts with a value of upwards of $40 million which will be used to support the remaining active aircraft. Some of the parts to be removed are no longer on the market or have become very expensive.[57][58]

Variants edit

NATO E-3s possess LX tail registration,[49] as they are registered in Luxembourg. The chin bulge houses a suite of electronic warfare support measures.[49]
2 prototype AWACS aircraft with JT3D engines, 1 fitted with a Westinghouse Electric radar and 1 with a Hughes Aircraft Company radar. Both converted to E-3A standard with TF33 engines.
Production aircraft with TF33 engines and AN/APY-1 radar, 24 built for USAF (later converted to E-3B standard), total of 34 ordered but the last 9 completed as E-3C.[59] One additional aircraft retained by Boeing for testing,[59] 18 built for NATO with TF33 engines and 5 for Saudi Arabia with CFM56 engines.[59]
These are not AWACS aircraft but CFM56 powered tankers based on the E-3 design. 8 were sold to Saudi Arabia.[59]
Three KE-3 airframes delivered as CFM56–powered strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Systems and external appearance are similar to the USAF’s RC-135V/W Rivet Joint platform. At least one of the RE-3As has received the extended "hog nose" as fitted to the RC-135.[citation needed]
USAF Block 30 modification. E-3As with improvements, 24 conversions.[59]
USAF Block 35 modification. Production aircraft with AN/APY-2 radar, additional electronic consoles and system improvements, ten built.[citation needed]
One E-3A aircraft used by Boeing for trials later redesignated E-3C.[59]
Production aircraft for the RAF to E-3C standard with CFM56 engines and British modifications designated Sentry AEW.1, 7 built.[59] Modifications included the addition of a refueling probe next to the existing boom AAR recipticle, CFM-56 engines, wingtip ESM pods, an enhanced Maritime Surveillance Capability (MSC) offering Maritime Scan-Scan Processing (MSSP), JTIDS and Havequick 2 radios.[citation needed]
Production aircraft for the French Air and Space Force to E-3C standard with CFM56 engines and French modifications, 4 built.[59]
USAF Block 40/45 modification.[citation needed] Includes hardware and software upgrades to improve communications, computer processing power, threat tracking, and others, and automates some previously manual functions. Initial operating capability (IOC) declared in July 2014.[60] E-3G(II) Block 40/45 modification that included a glass cockpit modification that reduced the crew size by one, and added a new avionics suite.[citation needed]

Operators edit

Boeing E-3F Sentry of the French Air and Space Force
Boeing E-3A Sentry of the NATO E-3A Component
Boeing E-3A Sentry of the Royal Saudi Air Force
The Chilean Air Force purchased three retired E-3D Sentry aircraft from the Royal Air Force.[61][62][63]
The French Air and Space Force purchased four E-3F aircraft.
18 E-3 AWACS were purchased – 1 was written off in Greece, 3 were retired from service. Mainly responsible for monitoring European NATO airspace, they have also been deployed outside the area in support of NATO commitments.[66] The 20 multinational crews[67] are provided by 15 of the 31 NATO member states.[68]
  Saudi Arabia
The Royal Saudi Air Force purchased five E-3A aircraft in 1983.[76] In 2004, modifications began to convert KE-3A tankers into RE-3 electronic intelligence gathering aircraft.[77] [needs update]
السرب الثامن عشر (al-Sarab al-Ththamin Eshr – No. 18 Squadron)
No. 19 Squadron – RE-3A/B (as well as Beechcraft 350ER-ISR)
No. 23 Squadron – KE-3A
  United States
The United States Air Force has 31 operational E-3s as of December 2019[79]
Tactical Air Command 1976–1992
Air Combat Command 1992–present
960th Airborne Air Control Squadron 2001–present (NAS Keflavik, Iceland 1979–1992)
963d Airborne Air Control Squadron 1976–present
964th Airborne Air Control Squadron 1977–present
965th Airborne Air Control Squadron 1978–1979, 1984–present
966th Airborne Air Control Squadron 1976–present
968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron 2013–present (Thumrait Air Base, Oman 2002–2003)[80]
Air Force Reserve Command
970th Airborne Air Control Squadron 1996–present (Personnel only, aircraft loaned by co-located 552nd ACW as needed)[81]
10th Flight Test Squadron – Tinker AFB, Oklahoma 1994–present[82]
Pacific Air Forces
962d Airborne Air Control Squadron 1986–present
961st Airborne Air Control Squadron 1979–present

Former operators edit

  United Kingdom
The Royal Air Force purchased seven E-3Ds by October 1987, designated Sentry AEW.1 in British service.[49][83] As of December 2020, only three remained in service after one was withdrawn from service in 2009 to be used as spares, two were withdrawn in March 2019 and a further one withdrawn in January 2020.[84][85] The fleet had been given an out of service date (OSD) of December 2022.[86] They formed the E-3D Component of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force.[87] However, that date was accelerated pursuant to the 2021 defence review and the aircraft made its final flight in U.K. service in August 2021.[88]
No. 8 Squadron[89] (1991–2021)
No. 23 Squadron (1996–2009)[90]
No. 54 Squadron (Operational Conversion Unit 2005–?)[89]
No. 56 Squadron (Operational Evaluation Unit 2008–?)[89]

Incidents and accidents edit

LX-N90457, after having overrun the runway at Preveza AB on 14 July 1996

E-3s have been involved in three hull-loss accidents, and one radar antenna was destroyed during RSIP development (see photo under Avionics).

  • On 22 September 1995, a U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry (callsign Yukla 27, serial number 77-0354), crashed shortly after takeoff from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The plane lost power to both left side engines after ingesting several Canada geese during takeoff. The aircraft went down about 2 mi (3.2 km) northeast of the runway, killing all 24 crew members on board.[91][92]
  • On 14 July 1996, a NATO E-3 Sentry (tail number LX-N90457) overran the runway and crashed into a sea wall at Preveza-Aktion Airport in Greece when the pilot attempted to abort takeoff after mistakenly believing that the aircraft had suffered a bird strike. The aircraft overran the runway and struck a sea wall, where it came to a halt. There were no injuries and the aircraft was written off. Investigators could find no evidence that a bird strike and ingestion had occurred.[93]
  • On 28 August 2009, a U.S. Air Force E-3C Sentry (serial number 83-0008) participating in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada experienced a nose gear collapse on landing, resulting in a fire and damaging the aircraft beyond repair. All 32 crew members evacuated safely.[94]

Specifications (USAF/NATO) edit

AN/APY-1 [uk] antenna array in the National Electronics Museum

Data from : E-3 Sentry (AWACS)[citation needed]

General characteristics

  • Crew: Flight crew: 4 (aircraft commander, pilot, navigator, flight engineer)
Mission crew: 13–19
  • Length: 152 ft 11 in (46.61 m)
  • Wingspan: 145 ft 9 in (44.42 m)
  • Height: 41 ft 4 in (12.60 m)
  • Wing area: 3,050 sq ft (283 m2)
  • Empty weight: 185,000 lb (83,915 kg)
  • Gross weight: 344,000 lb (156,036 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 347,000 lb (157,397 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Pratt and Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofan, 21,500 lbf (96 kN) thrust each


  • Maximum speed: 461 kn (531 mph, 854 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 310 kn (360 mph, 580 km/h) optimum
  • Range: 4,000 nmi (4,600 mi, 7,400 km)
  • Endurance: more than 8 hours without refuelling
  • Service ceiling: 29,000 ft (8,800 m) minimum


  • AN/APS-133 colour weather radar
  • Westinghouse Corporation AN/APY-1 or AN/APY-2 passive electronically scanned array radar system

See also edit

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists

References edit



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  2. ^ "Air Force identifies Boeing E-7 as solution to replace the E-3 capability". Air Force. 26 April 2022. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  3. ^ Wilson 1998, p. 72.
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  5. ^ a b "AWACS to Bridge the Technological Gap". Air University. Archived from the original on 27 June 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
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  9. ^ Davies 2005, pp. 5–6.
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  14. ^ a b NATO summit Warsaw July 2016
  15. ^ Warnes, Alan (December 2020). "Europe's New Look". AirForces Monthly. Stamford: Key Publishing. Longer term, NATO is looking to a successor for the AWACS, when it is retired in 2035... the Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) programme.
  16. ^ Lake, Jon (December 2020). "UK Wedgetail at risk?". AirForces Monthly. Key Publishing. Any realistic opportunity to extend the E-3D in service was lost more than a decade ago, when the proposed Project Eagle upgrade was abandoned, and investment in the platform virtually ceased.
  17. ^ "Wedgetail to be RAF's new early warning radar aircraft". Royal Air Force. 22 March 2019. Archived from the original on 22 March 2019. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
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  19. ^ Bihlajama, Leyinzca (6 April 2023). "552nd ACW Bids Farewell to First AWACS". United States Air Force. Retrieved 13 April 2023.
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External links edit

  • Royal Air Force E-3 Sentry information
  • NATO AWACS-Spotter Geilenkirchen website
  • Airborne Early Warning Association website