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US Navy begins converting former RAF E-3D into E-6B trainer

A former RAF E-3D being converted into a surrogate E-6B trainer for the US Navy at Lake Charles Airport in Louisiana. (NAVAIR)

The US Navy (USN) has begun conversion of a Boeing E-3D Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C) aircraft into a surrogate trainer for the service's E-6B Mercury long-endurance command, control, and communications (C3) fleet.

The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced the commencement of conversion work on 4 October, noting that the former UK Royal Air Force (RAF) E-3D will have a number of external features removed to better resemble the outer mould line of the E-6B.

“The process has begun to turn this E-3D into an E-6B in-flight trainer. The outer mould line will be modified to resemble an E-6, and the aerial refuelling probe and radar dome will be removed,” the command said.

Work is being performed at Lake Charles Airport in Louisiana (site of Northrop Grumman's Lake Charles Maintenance and Modification Center), where the aircraft has been stored since 2021. According to NAVAIR, once the maintenance and modification are complete, flight-testing is scheduled to start in early 2024.

The USN requires the E-3D to serve as flight trainer to reduce fatigue on the fleet of 16 E-6B aircraft, dubbed ‘Doomsday' on account of their nuclear control mission. Both the E-3D and E-6B share the same Boeing 707-320 airframe, and being fitted with the same flight controls, systems, and engines will enable all non-mission-related training to be conducted on the cheaper and non-operational surplus E-3D instead.

The aircraft now being converted will help reduce an estimated 600 flight hours and 2,400 landings/cycles per year from the E-6B mission aircraft.

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