Fuel Factor

E-2D Conducts Successful Aerial Refueling Tests

The aerial refueling-equipped E-2D Advanced Hawkeye receives 162 pounds of fuel from a U.S. Navy KC-130 Hercules during its first in-flight fuel transfer test July 14. (U.S. Navy photo by Liz Wolter)

 

As part of an effort to deliver a long-awaited, game-changing capability to the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the first aerial refueling-equipped E-2D received 2,000 pounds of fuel during a Jan. 10 test flight at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland.

The test aircraft received fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender. Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 conducted the three-hour test flight—the fourth and final threshold tanking test required by the program—in collaboration with the Air Force’s 418th Flight Test Squadron from Edwards Air Force Base, California.

This testing milestone reaffirms an on-schedule delivery of aerial refueling (AR), with production currently scheduled for 2018 and with initial operating capability set for 2020.

First Inflight Fuel Transfer

The first inflight fuel transfer occurred during a July 14 test at NAS Patuxent River, when the test aircraft engaged the refueling drogue trailing a Navy KC-130 Hercules and received 162 pounds of fuel. VX-20 conducted the four-hour test.

“Passing fuel for the first time airborne is a significant milestone in the development of this critical technology for the E-2D, which increases the range and persistence of command and control the E-2D provides to the U.S. and allied forces,” said Capt. Keith Hash, E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System Program Office program manager.

The development test phase for the AR-equipped E-2D commenced officially with a successful first flight Dec. 19, 2016. The E-2D test aircraft received its AR modification at Northrop Grumman’s facility in St. Augustine, Florida.

E-2D Aerial Refueling Evaluation with F/A-18F. (U.S. Navy photo by Liz Wolter)

Rigorous Testing

The program progressed smoothly through the initial testing scheduled for the AR-equipped E-2D.

In addition to the KC-10 and KC-130, the Advanced Hawkeye qualified to refuel with the Air Force’s KC-135 and the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. Testing will continue to expand refueling capacity with these tanker aircraft, while initial testing will commence with others, including the KC-707 tanker operated by Omega Aerial Refueling Services, a private contractor.

With a wide array of tanking tests completed and scheduled, the program office team plans to qualify the E-2D’s aerial refueling capability with as many aircraft as possible, ultimately providing a large operational tanking envelope to the fleet.

While testing each aircraft, the team evaluates aircraft handling and the ability of the aircraft to refuel at varying altitudes and airspeeds.

The Long Flight to AR Capability

Since the E-2 Hawkeye debuted in January 1964, warfighters have identified repeatedly the need and desire for the E-2 to see farther and fly longer. Records from the 1960s contain notes discussing the development and addition of an AR capability to the E-2.

In the early 2000s, the Navy conducted proof-of-concept and risk-reduction tests to demonstrate the feasibility of an AR-enabled E-2. These tests involved flying a Hawkeye with a faux refueling probe behind tanker aircraft. The probe was only a model, so fuel was never transferred, but the flights reinvigorated the effort.

The Navy gave the AR E-2D solid wings in 2013 by awarding an engineering, manufacturing and development contract to Northrop Grumman.

In collaboration with the program office, Northrop Grumman modified three E-2Ds to accommodate AR testing through 2018.

The changes to the original E-2D include adding the fixed-fuel probe and associated plumbing, formation lighting and long-endurance seats, as well as flight control software and hardware changes.

The AR capability will allow the Advanced Hawkeye to remain on station longer—up to the limits of the aircrew and airframe endurance—equipping the fleet with a more effective E-2D and better battlespace coverage in support of the warfighter’s mission.

Eyes and Ears

The Advanced Hawkeye patrols the skies as the airborne early warning command-and-control aircraft currently transitioning to the fleet. The E-2D replaces the E-2C Hawkeye in providing airborne surveillance, tracking and battlespace management to the warfighter. Every day, men and women of all ranks, in all fields, depend on the information provided by the E-2 to protect against ever-evolving threats.

Soon, the fleet will be able to see farther, pacing an ever-evolving threat, while making far fewer pit stops for gas.

Written by Tori Finagin, a communications specialist for the E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System Program Office.

The aerial refueling-equipped E-2D engages the refueling drogue trailing from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker. (U.S. Navy photo by Liz Wolter)