Adding refueling equipment to the U.S. Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is expected to increase the on-station time of the aircraft carrier-based, command-and-control airplane by over 85 percent, according to an industry official.
Currently, the E-2D and the older E-2C Hawkeye, both built by Northrop Grumman [NOC], can stay in the air for almost four hours before landing, said Jay Mulhall, the company’s business development director for military aircraft. Giving the E-2D a refueling capability will extend the aircraft’s mission time to over seven hours.
“The Navy made air refueling a top priority because they needed that additional reach and persistence,” Mulhall said.
According to the Navy’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, aerial refueling will “better enable” the E-2D “to fully support current carrier strike group/joint 24/7 theater operations by providing more versatile stationing and/or forward basing options.”
The E-2D completed its first flight with aerial refueling equipment on Dec. 15 near the Northrop Grumman plant in St. Augustine, Fla. The flight lasted a little over an hour and confirmed that the modified aircraft is airworthy, Mulhall told Defense Daily Dec. 20. The modifications include mounting a pole-like probe above the cockpit, adding lights to allow night-time refueling, and installing more comfortable crew seats to support longer flights.
The E-2D will start undergoing in-flight refueling testing in March or April at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, Mulhall said. Northrop Grumman is under contract to equip three E-2Ds with aerial refueling, and testing with them will continue through 2018.
The Navy ultimately wants to add refueling to all 75 Advanced Hawkeyes that it intends to buy. A formal review of those refueling acquisition plans is expected in mid-2017.
Northrop Grumman has delivered 27 Advanced Hawkeyes to the Navy so far and is increasing that inventory at a pace of five aircraft a year. The E-2D deployed for the first time in 2015 aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).