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Boeing E-6 Mercury

United States (1989)
Picture of Boeing E-6 Mercury Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post
Picture of Boeing E-6 Mercury Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post Picture of Boeing E-6 Mercury Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post
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The Boeing E-6 Mercury was developed to a US Navy requirement and has been serving actively since August of 1989.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Boeing E-6 Mercury Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post.  Entry last updated on 6/16/2017. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

The Boeing E-6 Mercury was original developed for the United States Navy as an airborne command and communications relay platform to replace the outgoing Lockheed EC-130Q "TACAMO" ("Take Charge And Move Out") series. The EC-130Q was a C-130H production model outfitted with VLF transmitters which allowed for direct communications with ballistic missile submarines to which 18 of the type were eventually delivered. This level of secure, high-level communications was of paramount interest during the dark days of the Cold War, particularly concerning launching of nuclear weapons. If ground-based communications were to be wiped out in an attack, such aircraft would be called upon to fill the void. The E-6, therefore, served in the same principle role as the EC-130Q before it, the newer airframe being based on the capable Boeing 707-320 series. However, the E-6 further broadened communications capabilities to interact with other command aircraft in the skies.

NOTE: The E-6 initiative was originally slated to carry the name of "Hermes" though this was later given up for the "Mercury" name at the behest of the USN.

Boeing took to modifying their existing 707-320 airframe to incorporate all manner of advanced hardware to suit the US Navy requirement. First flight for the aircraft was recorded on February 19th, 1987 and, following several years of active testing, the E-6 Hermes was formally introduced into USN service in August of 1989. The initial squadron receiving the type was VQ-3 (the "Ironmen") in 1991 followed by VQ-4 ("Shadows"). It was also in 1991 that the "Hermes" name was dropped in favor of the "Mercury" name. Initial production forms - 16 of them emerging from Boeing facilities - were formally designated as "E-6A".


Picture of the Boeing E-6 Mercury Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post
Picture of the Boeing E-6 Mercury Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post


Aside from the occasional communications protrusions, the E-6 carried the same general appearance of the Boeing 707-320 model. The fuselage was tubular, long and sleek with the flight deck held well forward, aft of a short nose cone assembly. The empennage consisted of a single tall vertical tail fin with a low-set pair of horizontal tailplanes. Dual-trailing antennas are noted at the rear of the fuselage. The main wings were low-mounted along the fuselage sides and well-swept rear-wards. Each wing carried a pair of underslung engine nacelles. Power was delivered through the four-engined configuration via 4 x CFM International F108-CF-100 series turbofan engines. This provided the airframe with a top speed of 600 miles per hour out to a range of 7,300. Internally, the E-6 housed a fully-secure communications suite incorporating UHF, VHF and base High-Frequency channels. A pair of underwing pods were fitted to house the required UHF satellite and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) receivers. The base crew included two pilots, two flight crew and up to twenty mission specialists. Workstations numbered four and eight bed bunks were set aside for sleep as required, allowing the E-6 to remain on station for hours on end.

In the early 2000s, Raytheon was charged with upgrading the existing E-6A fleet with UHF C3FDM radio equipment, new workstation consoles ("battlestaff"), the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) and the Digital Airborne Intercommunications Switching System (DIASS). Inclusion of the ALCS was of particular note for it now supplied the E-6 management over land-based ballistic missile launching as well, further broadening the strategic scope of the E-6 family. In this way, the E-6 now became a "dual-role" performer over that of the original design. The cockpit was further upgraded to the all-glass look and function of the Boeing 737 "Next Generation" series (this primarily in response to the requirement of Global Air Traffic Management (GATM)). Key physical changes to the E-6 structure included a bulged section of fuselage spine located aft of the cockpit, easily identifying the new "E-6B" standard - the bulge housing a new SATCOM antenna array. Engines were 4 x CFM International CFM-56-2A-2 series high-bypass turbofans providing a maximum speed of 600 miles per hour with a range out to 7,600 miles and service ceiling of 40,000 feet. Initial E-6B models were delivered in December of 1997 and all of the remaining original E-6A production models have since been upgraded to the newer E-6B standard (the final E-6B was delivered in 2003).

In September of 1998, the E-6B was selected to replace the Lockheed EC-135 "Looking Glass" airborne command post system for the United States Air Force. The Looking Glass initiative was put in place to counter the loss of the Global Operations Center (GOC) out of Offutt AFB, Nebraska in the event of all-out war - giving the E-6 fleet control over much of America's nuclear ballistic capability.

The E-6 maintains an active status in the US military inventory as of November 2012. VQ-3 and VQ-4 remain the only squadrons managing E-6 usage and are based out of Tinker AFB in Oklahoma.






Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (603mph).

    Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Boeing E-6B Mercury's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
16
16


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


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Origin: United States
Year: 1989
Type: Naval Communications Relay Aircraft / Airborne Command Post
Manufacturer(s): Boeing Company - USA
Production: 16
Global Operators:
United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Boeing E-6B Mercury model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
4 + 20


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
150.26 ft


Meters
45.8 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
148.29 ft


Meters
45.2 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
42.65 ft


Meters
13 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
172,842 lb


Kilograms
78,400 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
340,394 lb


Kilograms
154,400 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
4 x CFM International CFM-56-2A-2 turbofan engines developing 20,000lb thrust each.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
603 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
970 kph


Knots
524 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
7,519 mi


Kilometers
12,100 km


Nautical Miles
6,533 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
40,026 ft


Meters
12,200 m


Miles
7.58 mi

Armament - Hardpoints (0):

None.
Variants: Series Model Variants
• E-6A - Initial production model; based on the Boeing 707-320 airliner; 4 x CFM International F108-CF-100 turbofan engines; HF, VHF and UHF radio; UHF satellite communications; underwing pods for ESM and UHF receivers.
• R-6B - Upgraded (Raytheon) standard appearing in 1997; all-glass 737NG cockpit; ALCS; DAISS; UHF C3FDM radio suite; "battlestaff" operator consoles; identified by the bulge fuselage spine housing the SATCOM array.