The last 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 18 December.
With the first aircraft having been fitted with Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) technology by Boeing in the US and delivered back to NATO in 2016, the remaining 13 were upgraded by Airbus as the NATO AWACS support authority at the company's Manching facility in southern Germany.
The programme was 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. In addition to making the aircraft GATM-compliant, the programme also reduced the flight crew from three to two.
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. The E-3A's typical crew of 14 is made up of surveillance operators (SOs), weapons controllers (WCs), fighter allocators (FAs), technical director (TD) (mission chief), surveillance controllers (SCs), and passive systems controllers (PSCs); technical support (TS) crew to support the onboard systems (including the AN/APY-2 radar); and a flight crew made up of the aircraft commander, first officer, flight engineer, and navigator.
The NATO E-3A Component originally fielded 18 E-3A AWACS aircraft when it formed in 1982. An accident in 1995 and the retirement of three airframes due to budgetary cutbacks over the years have reduced the number to 14, which are slated to remain in service through to 2035.
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