The UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF) first Wedgetail AEW1 (E-7A) airborne early-warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) has reached a new development milestone.

The aircraft has successfully been installed with the multi-role electronically scanned array (MESA) sensor. 

It is the first of three aircraft from the new Wedgetail fleet that is undergoing transformation at the Birmingham-based STS Aviation Services modification facility. A team of 100 engineers are involved in this work.

The three aircraft have been procured by the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) procurement arm Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S).

Once delivered, the new fleet will provide long-range air surveillance and control capabilities to the RAF to support deployment in a different area of operations.

DE&S Air Support director Richard Murray said: “This is a hugely complex programme that is being delivered in a difficult global supply chain environment given the challenges of the last two years.

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“Installation of MESA sensor on the first aircraft marks a key milestone in the development of the UK E7 Wedgetail fleet and reflects the hard work of all of the project’s partners.”

Manufactured by Northrop Grumman, the MESA sensor is housed in a distinctive fin on the aircraft’s spine and fitted in the aircraft’s fuselage section, which is reinforced under a heavy modification process.

It will provide 360° coverage for precisely identifying and detecting the targets at longer distances, providing aircrew with the required tools to track both airborne and maritime targets.

In support of the Wedgetail fleet’s conversion effort, Boeing’s various British industry partners, including Thales UK in Crawley, Leonardo in Yeovil, and Hamble Aerostructures in Portsmouth are delivering materials, skills, technology and other services.

The Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft will be operated by RAF’s No 8 Squadron, based at RAF Lossiemouth.