Boeing has successfully completed first flight of the upgraded Nato E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft at an undisclosed location.

The two-hour flight validated the aircraft’s five full-colour glass displays with customisable engine, navigation and radar data, with performance of all systems surpassing the expectations.

The successful test flight enables the programme to enter an extensive flight test qualification phase.

A total of 14 Nato AWACS are scheduled to be equipped with modern flight deck and avionics systems that replace their 1970s-era analogue systems.

Boeing AWACS programme manager Jon Hunsberger said: "These improvements provide Nato with an AWACS fleet that will save time and fuel and will also decrease operational costs by allowing a reduction in the flight crew size."

"The successful test flight enables the programme to enter an extensive flight test qualification phase."

Boeing EU and Nato relations president Brian Moran said: "The AWACS programme is a model for enduring transatlantic defence cooperation.

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"Boeing is honoured to enhance this critical capability for the Alliance in close collaboration with industry partners from across Europe and the United States."

Apart from resolving recurring issues involving out-of-production avionics by using commercial, off-the-shelf digital avionics, the flight deck upgrades also ensure compliance with the existing and future air traffic control and navigation requirements. This gives the aircraft broader access to airspace across the globe.

Modernisation of the first Nato AWCAS is being conducted as part of a $394m contract awarded by the US Air Force (USAF) in 2012, which also covers upgrades to the latter’s AWACS aircraft that is expected to undertake first flight in 2016.

Installation of the upgrade for the remaining 13 Nato aircraft will be performed as part of a $257m contract, beginning in 2016 and will be completed by 2018.

Delivery of the first upgraded AWACS, which is based on the Boeing 707, is scheduled to be delivered to Nato in January 2016.

Image: Boeing test pilots fly the first upgraded Nato airborne warning and control system aircraft over Seattle, US. Photo: courtesy of John Parker.