The first of 14 Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to be upgraded for operations in commercial airspace has been delivered back to NATO, the company announced on 13 December.
The aircraft, which had been fitted with global air traffic management (GATM) technology, was modernised by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) under the engineering, manufacturing, and development (EMD) phase of a USD250 million contract awarded in August 2014, and handed back on 16 November.
With this handover, the remaining 13 aircraft included in the contract will be upgraded by Airbus as the NATO AWACS support authority at the company's Manching facility in southern Germany.
The programme is focused on a new flight management system and the installation of 50 new 'black boxes', as well as the integration of flight safety avionic systems. As well as making the aircraft GATM-compliant, it will also reduce the flight crew from three to two.
The second aircraft upgrade is already under way, with the entire fleet slated for completion in 2018. The GATM modernisation has also been installed on a US Air Force AWACS, which is completing extensive flight tests and will be delivered in 2017.
Based on a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe, the E-3 is built around a 9.1 m-diameter rotating radome that sits atop the fuselage. This radar has a range of more than 400 km (which equates to a coverage area of more than 500,000 km 2 of airspace) to look down and detect, identify, and track low-flying aircraft over land or water.
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