E-3D Sentry AEW1
The RAF operates the E-3D Sentry aircraft in the airborne surveillance and command-and-control role.
While primarily procured as an airborne early warning aircraft, the E-3D has been extensively employed in the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) role.
The Sentry’s roles include air and sea surveillance, airborne command and control, and weapons control.
The aircraft’s mission systems can separate, manage and display targets individually on situation displays within the aircraft, or it can transmit the information to ground-based and ship-based units using a wide variety of digital data links. The E-3D also operates as an extensive communications platform.
- Engines: Four CFM 56 2A-3 turbofans
- Thrust: 24,000lbs each
- Max speed: 460kts
- Length: 46.68m
- Max altitude: 35,000ft
- Span: 44.98m
- Aircrew: 18
The RAF operates seven E-3D Sentry aircraft in the airborne surveillance and command-and-control role. The aircraft are based at RAF Waddington, where they are operated by Nos 8 and 23 Squadrons as the UK’s contribution to the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force. The E-3D also forms one arm of the UK Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) triad of Sentinel R1, E-3D and Shadow R1 aircraft. Whilst primarily procured as an airborne early warning aircraft, the E-3D has been extensively employed in the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) role. The E-3D Sentry, known to the RAF as the AEW1, is based on the commercial Boeing 707-320B aircraft, which has been extensively modified and updated to accommodate modern mission systems. Mission endurance is approximately 11 hours (over 5000nmls), although this can be extended by air-to-air refueling. The E-3D is the only aircraft in the RAF’s inventory capable of air-to-air refueling by both the American ‘flying-boom’ system and the RAF’s ‘probe-and-drogue’ method.
The normal crew complement of 18 comprises four flight-deck crew, three technicians and an 11-man mission crew. The mission crew comprises a tactical director (mission crew commander), a fighter allocator, three weapons controllers, a surveillance controller, two surveillance operators, a data-link manager, a communications operator and an electronic-support-measures operator. The Sentry’s roles include air and sea surveillance, airborne command and control, weapons control and it can also operate as an extensive communications platform.
The aircraft cruises at 30,000ft and 400kts and its Northrop Grumman AN/APY-2 high-performance, multimode lookdown radar, housed in the black radome, is able to separate airborne and maritime targets from ground and sea clutter. One E-3D flying at 30,000ft can scan at distances of over 300nmls; it can detect low-flying targets or maritime surface contacts within 215nmls and it can detect medium-level airborne targets at ranges in excess of 280nmls. The multi-mode radar provides lookdown surveillance to the radar horizon and an electronic vertical scan of the radar beam provides target elevation and beyond-the-horizon operation for long-range surveillance of medium and high-altitude aircraft. These attributes allow it to determine the location, altitude, course and speed of large numbers of airborne targets. The aircraft’s mission systems can separate, manage and display targets individually on situation displays within the aircraft, or it can transmit the information to ground-based and ship-based units using a wide variety of digital data links
Distinctive large circular radar antenna dish (1) set horizontally on two vertical struts extending from the top of the fuselage (2). (The radar is actually the white part of the disc, the black being there to balance and streamline the radar as it rotates). Low-set swept narrow-chord wings with underslung engines in four separate pods, wing-tip mounted electronic support measures pods (3) and in-flight refuelling probe mounted directly above the cockpit. Circular narrow-body windowless fuselage with the tailplane mounted either side of the tail cone. Tall, narrow fin and rudder, slightly swept.
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