In-Flight Trainer, RAF E-3D Purchase by USA

It looks like the United Kingdom will sell a Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1 to the USA where it will be used as an E-6B Mercury in-flight training aircraft.

On 28 October 2020, a contract by the US Department of Defence was published in which an E-3D for this purpose was mentioned.

The E-3D variant is only flown by the Royal Air Force, of which three remain in service with 8sq that also loans aircraft to 54sq (Operational Conversion Unit) and 56sq (Operational Evaluation Unit), all based at RAF Waddington (UK).

The Sentry AEW1s are replaced by the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail from 2023 onwards.

Overview of the Sentry AEW1s delivered to the United Kingdom:

Sentry AEW1
ZH101 (c/n 24109/993) 8/54sq “Doc” l/n jul20
ZH102 (c/n 24110/996) stored EGXW “Dopey” l/n jul20
ZH103 (c/n 24111/1004) 8/54sq “Happy” l/n jul20
ZH104 (c/n 24112/1007) stored KLCH “Sleepy” l/n jan20
ZH105 (c/n 24113/1010) dump EGXW “Sneezy” l/n jul20
ZH106 (c/n 24114/1011) 8/54sq “Grumpy” l/n aug20
ZH107 (c/n 24499/1012) stored EGXW “Bashful” l/n jul20
EGXW = RAF Waddington, KLCH = Lake Charles/Regional (LA)

The Naval Air System Command (NASC) will start to use the E-3D, but will not make use of its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) capability. The US Navy E-6B Programme Office (PMA-271) seeked the procurement of the E-3D (a Boeing 707-320 series with CFM56 engines and with sufficient service life (hours and cycles) remaining in order to be kept in service to 2038) to be used as an in-flight trainer. Looking at the overview a most likely candidate is the airframe currently stored at Lake Charles (LA).

The NASC will perform flight training with the aircraft to relieve training hours of the E-6B flight hours. The B707-320 must be capable for in-flight refueling with the US Air Force boom system. The E-3D is able to refuel in the air in both ways, with hose and drogue and with a boom entry.

The US Navy is using sixteen E-6Bs with the Commander Strategic Communications Wing (CSCW) 1, based at Tinker AFB (OK). The wing is operating three squadrons of E-6Bs, VQ-3 Ironman, VQ-4 Shadows and VQ-7 Roughnecks. VQ-3 keeps detachments at Travis AFB (CA) and Offut AFB (NB) while VQ-4 keeps a detachment at NAS Patuxent River (MD). The latter is assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 Force.

The E-6B is integral to the US Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (C3) system, and provides assured capability for US nuclear force execution. The aircraft is an airborne command post and communications relay based on the Boeing 707. The Mercury conveys instructions from the National Command Authority to fleet ballistic missile submarines, a mission known as TACAMO ("Take Charge And Move Out"). The E-6B also has the ability to remotely control Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) using the Airborne Launch Control System.

Currently, the US Navy conducts all initial and recurring E-6B pilot training flights in E-6B mission aircraft. These training flights expose mission aircraft to significant unnecessary wear-and-tear and negatively impact E-6B readiness and availability. Moreover, lack of a dedicated training aircraft increases the time required to train qualified aircrews needed to execute the E-6B mission.

The purchase of an in-flight trainer aircraft will result in the reduction of 600 flight hours and 2,400 landings/cycles per year from the E-6B mission aircraft.

Photos: Instagram Stephan_debruijn and Shaun Conner

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