Northrop Grumman [NOC] said Tuesday that the first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft over the summer successfully received a first in-flight fuel transfer from a tanker.

During a four-hour flight on July 14, pilots conducted 10 dry and two wet plugs connecting the first E-2D equipped with aerial refueling capability to a KC-130 Hercules tanker. The aircraft transferred over 1,700 pounds of fuel to the Hawkeye.

The first time a KC-130 Hercules tanker refuels an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye in a test on July 14. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The first time a KC-130 Hercules tanker refuels an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye in a test on July 14. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The refueling-equipped E-2D first flew in Dec. 2016 at Northrop Grumman’s St. Augustine, Fla., facility before being transferred to the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The modified E-2D is completing the aerial refueling test program at Patuxent River (Defense Daily, Dec. 21, 2016).

“Passing fuel for the first time airborne is a significant milestone in the development of this critical technology for the E-2D, which increases the range and persistence of command and control the E-2D provides to U.S. and allied forces,” Capt. Keith Hash, E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data Systems (PMA-231) program manager, said in a statement,

The in-flight refueling program is currently converting three aircraft. The third was flown to the St. Augustine facility while the July test was taking place. Northrop Grumman was awarded $255 million for the overall program.

The system modification includes several sub-system upgrades to accommodate the different refueling options, including adding fuel probe plumbing, formation lighting, more comfortable seats for longer endurance flights, and flight software changes.

Northrop Grumman won the Navy refueling modification award in 2013. The company said this capability will give the service the ability to conduct E-2D missions for over seven hours at a time compared to the current five hour operational flight time.

A Northrop Grumman spokesperson told Defense Daily that a single in-flight refueling could extend the five hour flight time to over eight hours, “providing an additional 3-4 hours of mission time or extending the reach of the mission to more distant stations.”

The planned production cut-in is 2018, with initial operational capability (IOC) planned for 2020. The spokesperson said that the IOC will include five aerial-refueling capable E-2Ds.

The company added that at a later date the Advanced Hawkeyes already in the fleet will be retrofitted with the refueling modifications.  The Navy intends to eventually add this refueling capability to all of the 75 E-2Ds it aims to acquire.

Jane Bishop, Northrop Grumman vice president and program manager of the E-2/C-2 program, added that developing this capability for the E-2D “is another demonstration of Northrop Grumman’s unwavering commitment to provide our Navy customer with increased operational capability.”

Northrop Grumman builds both the older E-2C and upgraded E-2D models for the Navy where it is used for battle management command and control. The E-2D first deployed in 2015 onboard the Nimitz-class USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) aircraft carrier

As of Wednesday, the company had delivered 31 E-2Ds to the Navy and is finishing production on two for Japan.