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E-3 Sentry (AWACS)

E-3 Sentry aircraft are Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), developed by the American company Boeing for the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The E-3 was developed from the commercial Boeing 707-320 series. The most notable characteristic is the the large radar mounted on top of the fuselage. The primary mission of the Sentry is to detect and trace enemy aircraft movements and sending this information to other aircraft like fighter jets. The Sentry has a larger radar range than fighter jets.
The E-3 can also support ground-units with information for reconnaissance and air support. From the basic of the commercial airliner, the Sentry is completely modified where the cabin is equipped with workplaces for different airborne functions.


Design organisation Boeing
Main secundary design organisations Pratt and Whitney, Northrop Grumman
Production organisaton Boeing, Seattle, United States
Primary task Airborne surveillance, command and control
Type aircraft Medium/long range narrow body transport airplane
Length 46.6 meters
Height 13 meters
Wingspan 44.4 meters
Wing surface  
Aspect ratio  
Sweep back  
Engines 4x TF-33-PW-100A turbofan motor (USA and NATO)
4x CFM56-2A-3 turbofan motoren (other operators)
Thrust TF33: 20,500 pounds each engine
CFM56: 24,000 pounds each engine
Weight (empty)  
Weight (start, maximum, MTOW) 147,429 kgs
Weight (landing, maximum, MLW)  
Required runway length (start)  
Required runway length (landing)  
Cruise speed Mach 0.48
Maximum speed Mach 0.9
Ceiling 30,000 ft (operational altitude)
Maximum range 5000 nm (9260 km)
Fuel capacity 79464 liters
Air-to-air-refueling capability Yes
Passengers none
Payload none
Armament none
Maximum weapon load n.a.
Maximum G resistance + 2.5 / -1
Radar AN/APY-2 multi-mode lookdown radar
Avionics NATO: Link 11, Link 16, JTIDS
Type flight controls  
Landing gear  
Versions E-3A, E-3B, E-3D, E-3F,
Manufactured 68 (18x E-3A, 33x E-3B, 7x E-3D, 4x E-3F, 5x E-3A)
Crew 4 (2 pilots, 1 flight test engineer, 1 navigator) + 13-19 specialists: (tactical director, fighter allocator, weapons controller, surveillance controller, surveillance operators, passive controller, communications technician, radar technician, system technician.
Costs 270 million dollar (FY 98)
Overall flight hours  
First flight 25 May 1976
First delivery 1977 (United Statesn)
1980 (NATO)
1983 (Saudi-Arabia)
1987 (United-Kingdom)
1991 (France)
Operational since April 1978 (USA)
Successor of none
Replaced by n.a.
Comparable aircraft Boeing E-767 AEW&C
Operators (current and future) France, NATO (only participating countries), Saudi-Arabia, United-Kingdom, United States
Main operators United States Air Force
Amphibious usage No
Status In operational service

The E-3 Sentry was primary developed for the USAF which toke over of 33 aircraft (1). The AEW&C department of NATO which consists of 16 countries bought 18 aircraft (2). The United-Kingdom bought 7 airplanes by their own (3), the same as France (4 airplanes) (4)
and Saudi-Arabia (unknown) (5).

1. United States
The US Air Force has 33 E-3B Sentry aircraft. Some of these are stationed on Tinker Air Force Base, close to the city of Oklahoma.

The AWACS aircraft from the USAF will get a block 30/35 modification update. This contains:
Electronic Support Measure, GPS, Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, a increased memory capacity for JTIDS and EMS.

NATO has bought 18 E-3A Sentry aircraft short after the USAF. The E-3 were almost similar to the US version and were also equipped with the TF-33 turbofan engine. 1 aircraft has been crashed.
The 17 remaining aircraft have their home base on Geilenkirchen Air Force Base (Germany) near the cities of Maastricht (Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany). Besides Geilenkirchen there are FOB in Italy, Greece and Turkey and a forward operating location in Norway. The NATO Sentry aircraft perform an continue airborne control mission of the European NATO countries.

3. United-Kingdom
The British Royal Air Force (RAF) has 7 E-3D Sentry AWACS stationed with 8 and 23 squadron on Waddington Air Force Base (UK). They are also part of the NATO AEW&C part are ownership of the UK Ministry of Defence. They are equipped with 4 CFM 56 high-bypass turbofan engines from CFM (General Electric and Snecma). The airplane has a maximum velocity of mach 0.9 and a ceiling of 14.000 meters (45,921 ft).
The British Sentry aircraft are also part of the RAF ELINT capability (Electronic Intelligence).

4. France
Since June 22, 1990, the French Air Force has 4 E-3F AWACS aircraft These are also equipped with the CFM 56-2-A3l turbofan engines which has a thrust of 10.000 kg (each).

5. Saudi-Arabia
The Saudi-Arabian Air Force also has the E-3 Sentry which are currently (2010) being updated.

NATO E-3A NATO E-3A French Air Force E-3F
British E-3D with USAFE KC-135 USAF E-3B USAF E-3B

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Last updated: 18 January 2014