It was called “The Airborne Sentinel” in a public relations pamphlet distributed by Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation and touted as the first aircraft designed and built specifically for airborne early warning (AEW).
Beginning with Project Cadillac, a joint Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Navy program that conducted the initial experiments using a modified TBM Avenger torpedo-bomber, the Navy adapted airframes designed as attack and antisubmarine warfare platforms to meet AEW requirements, including the AD Skyraider, AF Guardian, and the E-1B Tracer.
While the latter aircraft was the most comprehensive of the conversions, it was only intended as an interim measure, the Navy realizing that it required a platform built from the ground up for the mission. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, the builder of the E-1B, set to work designing an entirely new platform to meet the Navy’s requirements for a higher service ceiling that allowed for greater detection range and the ability to house the equipment for the Air Tactical Data System (ATDS). In final form, Design 123 featured a wingspan of over 80 ft., a pressurized fuselage section, and a distinctive tail design with four vertical tail surfaces. Additionally, the 24 ft. diameter rotodome was more streamlined than that on the WF/E-1, helping to improve performance. Operating from altitudes between 25,000 and 30,000 ft., E-2As had a radar range of more than 230 miles and was capable of detecting ships and aircraft from the surface of th water to an altitude of 100,000 ft.
Initially designated the W2F-1 when ordered, the airplane was redesignated the E-2A Hawkeye in 1962, and two years later the first E-2As joined Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 11, their first combat deployment to the waters off Vietnam coming in 1965. The airplane registered a number of firsts in Naval Aviation, including being the first carrier-based turbo-prop and reversiblepitch propeller airplane and the first to use the nose-tow catapult launch system in a flight from the carrier Enterprise (CVAN 65) in 1962.
An upgraded computer system installed in forty-nine E-2As prompted their redesignation as E-2Bs in1969-1971, and the E-2C with upgraded engines and more advanced radar systems first flew in September 1972. Over the course of the ensuing decades, the E-2C has undergone numerous modifications, each incorporating features that significantly enhance the airplane’s capabilities. The E-2C surpassed one million flight hours in August 2004. The Advanced Hawkeye, designated the E-2D, was delivered to the fleet beginning in July 2010, and will eventually replace the E-2C.
Hawkeyes were on the scene for air-to-air kills by F-14 Tomcats against Libyan aircraft and provided airborne command and control for successful air operations as part of Operation Desert Storm, including air control for the shoot-down of two Iraqi MiG-21 aircraft by carrier-based F/A-18s in the early days of the war. More recently in the Global War on Terror, E-2 Hawkeyes provided critical airborne battle management and command and control functions supporting numerous close air support and battlefield interdiction missions. The airplane also works effectively with U.S. law enforcement agencies in drug interdictions operating from bases in the United States and several foreign countries.
The E-2C (Bureau Number 164494) in the museum’s collection was flight delivered to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in May 2014, and is displayed in the markings of its last squadron, Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123, the “Screwtops.”
Manufacturer: Grumman Aircraft Aerospace Corporation
Dimensions: Length: 57 ft., 6 in.; Height: 18 ft., 3 in.; Wingspan: 80 ft., 7 in.Weights: Empty: 38,063 lb.; Gross: 51,933 lb.
Power Plant: Two 5,100 standard horsepower Allison T-56-A427 turboprop engines
Performance: Maximum Speed: 372 M.P.H. at 4,000 ft.; Service ceiling: 30,800 ft.; Range: 1,605 miles
Crew: Two pilots and three naval flight officers