|Role||Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C)|
|National origin||United States|
|Manufacturer||Boeing Defense, Space & Security|
|First flight||EC-137D: 9 February 1972|
E-3: 25 May 1976
|Primary users||United States Air Force|
Royal Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
|Developed from||Boeing 707|
The Boeing E-3 Sentry is an American airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft developed by Boeing. E-3s are commonly known as AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System). Derived from the Boeing 707 airliner, it provides all-weather surveillance, command, control, and communications, and is used by the United States Air Force, NATO, Royal Air Force, French Air and Space Force, and Royal Saudi Air Force. The E-3 is distinguished by the distinctive rotating radar dome (rotodome) above the fuselage. Production ended in 1992 after 68 aircraft had been built.
In the mid-1960s, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) was seeking an aircraft to replace its piston-engined Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star, which had been in service for over a decade. After issuing preliminary development contracts to three companies, the USAF picked Boeing to construct two airframes to test Westinghouse Electric and Hughes‘s competing radars. Both radars used pulse-Doppler technology, with Westinghouse’s design emerging as the contract winner. Testing on the first production E-3 began in October 1975.
The E-3 Sentry’s airframe is a modified Boeing 707-320B Advanced model. Modifications include a rotating radar dome (rotodome), uprated hydraulics from 241 to 345 bar (3500–5000 PSI) to drive the rotodome, single-point ground refueling, air refueling, and a bail-out tunnel or chute. A second bail-out chute was deleted to cut mounting costs.
USAF and NATO E-3s have an unrefueled range of 7,400 km (4,600 mi) or 8 hours of flying. The newer E-3 versions bought by France, Saudi Arabia, and the UK are equipped with newer CFM56-2 turbofan engines, and these can fly for about 11 hours or more than 9,250 km (5,750 mi). The Sentry’s range and on-station time can be increased through air-to-air refueling and the crews can work in shifts by the use of an on-board crew rest and meals area. The aircraft are equipped with one toilet in the rear, and one behind the cockpit. Saudi E-3s were delivered with an additional toilet in the rear.
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NATO intends to extend the operational status of its AWACS until 2035 when it is due to be replaced by the Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) program. The Royal Air Force (RAF) chose to limit investment in its E-3D fleet in the early 2000s, diverting Sentry upgrade funds to a replacement program. On 22 March 2019, the UK Defence Secretary announced a $1.98 billion contract to purchase five E-7 Wedgetails.[
Because the Boeing 707 is no longer in production, the E-3 mission package has been fitted into the Boeing E-767 for the Japan Air Self Defense Forces. The E-10 MC2A was intended to replace USAF E-3s—along with the RC-135 and the E-8 Joint STARS, but the program was canceled by the Department of Defense.