Grumman WF-2 / E-1 Tracer - United States, 1958
Detailing the development and operational history of the Grumman WF-2 / E-1 Tracer Carrierborne Airborne Early Warning (AEW) Aircraft.
Entry last updated on 1/18/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Grumman E-1 Tracer AEW platform was based on the Grumman C-1 Trader carrier-based transport line.
With the rise of the aircraft carrier in World War 2 and advances in radar technology, the United States Navy entered into a period of adopting piston-powered, twin engined aircraft specially designed and outfitted for the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) role. These aircraft were appropriately modified for life at sea, particularly over-water operations and carrier take-off, landing and storage. Such was the Grumman E-1 "Tracer" line of the 1960s and 1970s which was born from the transport-minded Grumman C-1 "Trader" family. The original Trader was adopted as an at-sea aircraft carrier transport platform in 1952 and served across 83 examples into the late 1980s. The E-1 represented a successful conversion of this line and saw her first flight on December 17th, 1956. The series was formally introduced into USN service in 1958 and managed a service life into 1977 across 88 examples before being officially replaced by the modern and more advanced Grumman E-1 "Hawkeye" line appearing in 1964.
The E-1 was born as the XTF-1W prototype and featured a twin rudder tail configuration, two underslung engine nacelles along a pair of high-mounted wing assemblies. The wings were designed to fold sideways via a hinge system. The sideways method was forced by the addition of the large radome over the fuselage. The cockpit was held well-forward in the design aft of a short nosecone assembly. The fuselage was tear-drop shaped in its side profile and offered the required aerodynamics. The prototype lacked the electronics of the finalized models and carried the serial number of 136792. The undercarriage was wholly retractable and arranged in a tail-dragger configuration, using two main front landing legs and a small tail wheel, giving the airframe a pronounced "nose-up" appearance when at rest. A tail hook was added under the empennage for carrier-based landings. One of the most obvious features of the design was its large radome fitted atop the fuselage spine at midships as part of the Hazeltine AN/APS-82 system. The radome was supported by a shallow framework of struts and designed in an aerodynamically refined way. This installation made the E-1 family highly recognizable on the decks of American carriers of the period. The standard crew arrangement for Tracers was four personnel to include two pilots and a pair of RADAR/Interceptor Controllers.
Power for the E-1 was served through 2 x Wright R-1820-82A Cyclone series 9-cylidner radial piston engines, each developing up to 1,525 horsepower driving three-bladed propeller assemblies. This provided the aircraft with a maximum speed of 240 miles per hour with a cruising speed of 160 miles per hour. Range was 1,035 miles with a mission endurance time of nearly 7 hours. The aircraft could reach service ceilings of 15,800 feet at a rate-of-climb nearing 1,120 feet per minute.
Structurally, the E-1 was given a running length of 45 feet, 4 inches, a wingspan of 72 feet, 4 inches and a height of 16 feet, 10 inches. Empty listed weight was 20,640lbs with a maximum take-off weight of 26,600lbs.
The XTF-1W product was eventually redesignated under the XWF-1 identifier and entered production as the WF-2 under the then-current USN aircraft naming convention. The XTF-1W itself was then converted back to its C-1A Trader form while still holding on to its twin-fin tail arrangement. In the 1962 reorganization, the WF-2 was redesignated as the E-1B.
Tracers were still in use by the time of heavy involvement of American forces in the Vietnam War (1955-1975). E-1s in the war served in the Combat Air Patrol (CAP) role alongside fighter groups where they could relay enemy positions/activity and arrange ground strikes. Tracers were involved until about 1973 and the American commitment in the region ended in 1975. All Tracers were effectively removed from the USN inventory by 1977, bringing an end to their often overlooked contribution to American naval aviation. One claim to fame of the series was its status as a trend-setting carried based AEW platform - a category of naval aircraft that remains in play to this day (2013).
In all, some 88 WF-2/E-1B aircraft were produced. Due to its original "WF" designation, Tracers were nicknamed "Willy Fudd". Similarly, E-2 Hawkeyes were known under the nickname of "Super Fudd". The USN currently (2013) enjoys AEW capabilities through its E-2D "Advanced Hawkeye" platform and is one of the few propeller-driven airframes still operating on modern carrier decks.