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NATO E-3As Celebrate 25 years
Air to Air Photography
Flying with the NATO Early Warning Force's
AEW.1 (E-3D) Sentry
Otherwise known as the Boeing E-3D, the Sentry AEW Mk.1 operates from RAF Waddington with 8, 23 and 54(Reserve) Squadrons with seven pooled aircraft (ZH101 to ZH107). 8 Squadron is the largest squadron whilst 23 Squadron, which was formed later in 1996, is additionally responsible for training (Sentry Training Flight). Together these squadrons are a component of the NATO Early Warning Force. 
54(R) Squadron was reformed on September 1, 2005 as the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Conversion Unit. They are tasked with training crews on the E-3D, Nimrod R1 and the new Sentinel R1.
E-3D Sentry (ZH104) callsign 'NATO 20' on a crew training air refuelling mission over the North Sea in AARA 7.
The Sentry normally operates at 29,000 feet as an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. Its main role is Advanced Early Warning (AEW), by extending radar cover to detect and report on potentially hostile aircraft at all altitudes. It then directs air defence fighters (Tornado F.3 and Typhoon) towards the threat using the Joint Tactical Information Data System (JTIDS) or 'Link 16'. JTIDS is a data link that provides the pilot with a situational report of what other pilots and surveillance aircraft like the E-3D are seeing. This is now one of the most valuable tools for pilots.
To increase the range of the E-3D it is fitted with a dual in-flight refuelling system. Fuel can be taken on board from either probe and drogue tankers such as the RAFs Tristar and VC-10, or by boom receptacle as used by the USAFs KC-10 and KC-135. The aircraft utilises an overall crew of 17. The flight crew consisting of two pilots, a navigator and flight engineer. The mission crew consists of a tactical director with weapons and surveillance teams, a communications operator and three technicians.
The E-3 is based on the Boeing 707-320B airframe, with the E-3A entering service with the USAF in 1977. Later the NATO AEW Force who took delivery of 18 aircraft between 1982 and 1985. The RAF (7 x E-3D) and the French Air Force (4 x E-3F) jointly procured almost identical aircraft from Boeing, with deliveries commencing from 1991. For the RAF the Sentry replaced the ageing Avro Shackleton AEW Mk.2 which was to be replaced by the Nimrod AEW which was abandoned after considerable investment had been made.
The E-3D Sentry can refuel from RAF VC-10s but only from the fuselage mounted refuelling point.
Left to right: ZH106 is seen alongside 10 Squadron VC-10 K.3 (ZA147 'F'). In the last image it is awaiting it's turn to refuel with two 25 Squadron Tornado F.3s.
Left to right: E-3D Sentry (ZH106) in July 2005.
E-3D Sentry (ZH101 '01') over North Sea in March 2008.
E-3D Sentry (ZH101 '01') over North Sea with 43 Squadron Tornado F.3 in March 2008. It has a 54(R) Squadron badge on the nose.