USAF's first E-3 AWACS arrives at Tinker AFB to undergo DRAGON-upgrade


The US Air Force's (USAF) first E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft has arrived at Tinker Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma, to undergo glass flight deck modification.

The diminishing manufacturing sources replacement of avionics for global operations and navigation (DRAGON) cockpit modernisation programme will ensure the aircraft's compliance with current and future air traffic control requirements in international and domestic airspace.

Work under the programme includes replacing analogue technology with commercially viable digital flight management systems.

552nd Air Control Wing (ACW) DRAGON project officer lieutenant colonel Chris Hansen said: “With the flight deck modernisation, we are able to replace ageing avionics, exponentially increasing our capabilities and reducing costly maintenance on the fleet.

“The DRAGON upgrade brings our fleet into the modern age and will provide a greater operational capacity beyond 2025.”

The DRAGON also automates the navigation functions by optimising crew resource management during flight operations.

552nd ACW commander colonel David Gaedecke said: “Today marks a significant chapter in this wing’s history, as we prepare our airmen for tomorrow’s challenges.

"This is the first of 24 modified E-3s that we will receive over the next eight years.

"The DRAGON upgrade brings our fleet into the modern age and will provide a greater operational capacity beyond 2025."

“Fleet modernisation efforts increase our aviators’ capability to establish, project and sustain battle management support to combatant commanders.”

The aircraft will also be equipped with weather radar system that predicts and highlights hazardous weather conditions.

Additionally, DRAGON adds the Mode-5 identification friend or foe and provides automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast to increase situational awareness and improve flight safety.


Image: Inside the cockpit of the first of 24 E-3 Sentry aircraft to undergo glass flight deck modification known as DRAGON. Photo: courtesy of Air Force photo by Kelly White.