35th NATO AWACS Anniversary 2017 Geilenkirchen AB

report by:  Koen Wullus


On July 1-2 2017 Geilenkirchen AFB (Germany) opened the doors to the public to celebrate NATO E-3A Component’s 35th Anniversary. It was a unique opportunity for the general public to have an idea of what goes on behind the gates of the air base and provide some insight into the Component’s history, aircraft and daily operations. The anniversary aircraft will be flown for the upcoming 6 years and the decals can be adjusted to other special events like the celebration of 70 years NATO in 2019.

The NATO AEW&C Force E-3A Component are now undergoing a period of training as they build up to operations for NATO to enhance its contributions to the Global Coalition to Counter- ISIL with AWACS surveillance aircraft and to employ E-3A’s in orbits to conduct air surveillance, enhance NATO’s situational awareness and to provide assurance to nations on NATO’s Eastern Flank through assurance measure missions.

In October 1980, the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force Command was formed with its Headquarters co-located with SHAPE. In addition to the HQ, the Force comprises two operational components, the E-3A Component at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, GE, and the E-3D Component at Royal Air Force Waddington, UK; three Forward Operating Bases located in Turkey, Greece and Italy and a Forward Operating Location in Norway. The E-3A Component operates 18 E-3A Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft and 3 Boeing 707 Trainer/Cargo aircraft. The E-3D Component operates 6 E-3D AEW&C aircraft.

The Boeing E-3 Sentry, commonly known as AWACS, is an American airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft developed by Boeing. Derived from the Boeing 707, it provides all-weather surveillance, command, control, and communications, and is used by the United States Air Force, NATO, Royal Air Force, French Air Force, and Royal Saudi Air Force. The E-3 is distinguished by the distinctive rotating radar dome above the fuselage. Production ended in 1992 after 68 aircraft had been built.

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 first USAF E-3 was delivered in March 1977, and during the next seven years, a total of 34 aircraft were manufactured. NATO, as a single identity, also had 18 aircraft manufactured, basing them in Germany. The E-3 was also sold to the United Kingdom (seven) and France (four) and Saudi Arabia (five, plus eight E-3-derived tanker aircraft). In 1991, when the last aircraft had been delivered, E-3s participated in Operation Desert Storm, playing a crucial role of directing coalition aircraft against the enemy. Throughout the aircraft’s service life, numerous upgrades were performed to enhance its capabilities.

In 1996, Westinghouse Electric’s Defense & Electronic Systems division, was acquired by Northrop Corporation before its being renamed Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, which currently supports the E-3’s radar. NATO acquired 18 E-3As and support equipment for a NATO air defense force. Since all aircraft must be registered with a certain country, the decision was made to register the 18 NATO Sentries with Luxembourg, a NATO member that previously did not have any air force. The first NATO E-3 was delivered in January 1982.[27] The eighteen E-3s were operated by Number 1, 2 and 3 Squadrons of NATO’s E-3 Component, based at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen. Presently, 16 NATO E-3As are in the inventory, since one E-3 was lost in a crash and one was retired from service in 2015.

Globalairpower really appreciated to take part to the spotter day held during the arrivals on Friday before the event. We are now waiting the 2019 event about the 70th NATO Anniversary.