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  • Boeing E-3 Sentry (AWACS) Airborne Surveillance, Command, Control and Communications Aircraft

    A critical player for the United States, NATO and a few Western allies, the Boeing E-3 Sentry continues service in the vital AWACs role.

     Updated: 6/23/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    From 1954 into 1982, the United States military relied on the EC-121 "Warning Star" platform as its primary Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system. AEW aircraft were developed to provide battlespace command and direction for allied forces through the tracking of all presented aircraft, ground vehicles and naval assets. This sort of management proved ultra-critical in the evolving age of electronics and processing which saw an elevated reliance on all manner of scanning, tracking and detection. Aircraft like the EC-121, therefore, served as "directors" to oversee a given battlefield from lofty positions in the sky. The Warning Star series, based on Lockheed's "Constellation" line, fulfilled this requirement and was produced across 232 examples, largely remembered for their triple-fin tails and hump back fuselage spines. These aircraft served throughout the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and were popularly known by their nickname of "Connie", of course born of the original Constellation name.

    Into the 1960s, the United States Air Force (USAF) was already planning for a new AEW platform with much improved battlespace capabilities and would serve as a direct successor to the EC-121 line. Turbofan jet technology now allowed for larger aircraft to fly farther and higher than previous and the Boeing 707 was formally selected as the "carrier" for a powerfully advanced radar system. Two systems were then trialled on two Boeing 707 airframes - one radar from Westinghouse and the other from competing Hughes. The Westinghouse design was officially selected and the resulting aircraft became the E-3 "Sentry". Sixty-eight E-3s were produced from 1977 into 1992. The modern E-3 is given the descriptor of "Airborne Early Warning and Control" (AEW&C) to which the common term of "AWACs" is derived.

    Beyond the USAF's usage of the type, the aircraft was also sold to NATO, the British Royal Air Force (RAF), the French Air Force and Saudi Arabia. After the United States, NATO became the largest operator with eighteen airframes in its stable.

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    Boeing E-3C Sentry (AWACS) Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1977
    Type: Airborne Surveillance, Command, Control and Communications Aircraft
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Boeing Aerospace Company - USA
    Production Total: 68

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 4 + 19
    Length: 152.92 feet (46.61 meters)
    Width: 145.73 feet (44.42 meters)
    Height: 41.34 feet (12.60 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 161,996 lb (73,480 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 324,961 lb (147,400 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 4 x Pratt and Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofan engines developing 21,500 lb thrust each.

    Maximum Speed: 531 mph (855 kph; 462 knots)
    Maximum Range: 4,598 miles (7,400 km)
    Service Ceiling: 41,010 feet (12,500 meters; 7.77 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 2,000 feet-per-minute (610 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    None. Mission equipment carried for battlespace direction.

    Global Operators / Customers

    France; NATO; Saudi Arabia; United Kingdom; United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    EC-137D - Two Examples Prototype AWACS; fitting JT3D series engines; first prototype fitting Westinghouse-brand radar system whilst second prototype fitting Hughes-brand radar system; later converted to E-3A standard and fitting TF33 series engines.

    E-3A - Initial Production Model Designation; fitted with TF33 engines; AN/APY-1 series radar system; 25 examples produced for USAF (later converted to E-3B standard); 18 examples produced for NATO usage fitting TF33 series engines; 5 examples produced for Saudi Arabia fitting CFM56 engines.

    E-3B - Based on E-3A models but featuring improvements; 24 conversion examples.

    E-3C - Fitted with AN/APY-2 radar system; system improvements throughout; 9 examples produced.

    JE-3C - One-Off Trials Aircraft utilized by Boeing; later becoming an E-3C.

    E-3D - British production E-3C model; fitted with CFM56 engines; 7 examples produced.

    E-3F - French production E-3C model; fitted with CFM56 engines; 4 examples produced.

    E-3G - Block 40/45 modification; Airframe Modernization Program (AMP); USAF usage.

    KE-3A - Saudi Arabian tankers fitted with CFM56 engines; 8 examples produced.

    Sentry AEW.1 - British Designation of E-3D model.