I’m in an avgeek mood.
It’s funny how that works: when life gets kinda swirly, I like to think about things that bring me comfort. And if it flies, it brings me comfort.
This is an E-3 Sentry. It performs the airborne early warning and control system mission, hence its more commonly-understood nickname: AWACS.
Basically, it’s a super-sophisticated air traffic control asset. It uses that giant rotating radar dish to scan huge volumes of airspace and provide real-time visibility to fighters and other airborne assets.
Why does this matter? You can put a much bigger radar on a jetliner airframe than you can on a fighter. And having one giant radar for everyone means the fighters don’t have to light their own units up - which means they’re harder for the enemy to find.
Functionally, AWACS planes stay well outside the threat area and point their radars over the battle zone, then feed data to strike packages. The good guys have eyes on everything, and the bad guys never know what’s coming. I’ll take networked warfare for $200, Alex.
Needless to say, the Sentry is a priceless piece of kit, and is one of the most highly prized targets in any armed conflict.
Like Ukraine, where NATO-tasked examples of the type are flying round the clock just over the border to soak up data from Ukraine and monitor Russian air activity. It’s a poignant statement that this product of the Cold War now protects NATO’s eastern border and stands firm against Russian aggression.
Alas, these aircraft are based on an ancient airframe. All those antennae and protrusions may make the Sentry look like a bit of a monster, but underneath it all it’s a Boeing 707. So its flight crew are in some cases the grandchildren of the engineers who designed it. It’s an incredible, lifesaving, gamechanging plane, but it’s wearing out.
Well, USAF officials this week announced they’ve chosen Boeing’s E-7 Wedgetail
as the E-3’s eventual replacement. In addition to being based on the much more recent 737 (Next Gen, not the MAX, thank goodness) airframe, it replaces the rotating dome with a wedge-shaped antenna, hence the name.
Of course I appreciate that looks matter less than capability. And as long as these continue to offer G-d’s-eye perspectives to the good guys in the air, nothing else matters. Another example of technology for the win.
I will definitely miss the rotating dome, though.
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