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A historic event -- First NATO E-3A aircraft to retire

Soon, the last entry will be made into LX-N 90449’s logbook and it will close, forever. Aircraft 449 is about to make history, becoming the first NATO E-3A to officially retire, scheduled to leave the E-3A Component on June 23, 2015.

Lt. Col. Gerald Probst, Deputy Logistics Wing (LW) Commander and Main Operating Base’s (MOB) project officer for the Retirement Aircraft 449 Project explains, "The fleet reduction was decided by the NAPMO nations and the main reason why aircraft 449 was selected to retire was a Depot Level Maintenance (DLM) inspection scheduled for mid-July 2015. DLM is performed on a six-year cycle and costs roughly 15 million Euros. Not performing this inspection means that the aircraft is no longer allowed to fly.”

Three Phases

Technicians from the Component Propulsion Shop replace three of the four engines on aircraft 449 as part of the retirement project on May 20, 2015. (Photo by Andre Joosten)Colonel Probst continues, "This aircraft was in service until May 13, 2015. On May 18, the equipment testing started, followed by dismantling equipment and parts. This project is being performed in three phases. Phase one started here, at MOB Geilenkirchen, leaving all flight-essential equipment in place necessary for 449’s final flight to Tucson, Arizona, USA. Once it lands in the USA, phase two will kick in for roughly three weeks.” The purpose of phase two is to maximize reclamation of aircraft parts using MOB resources.

"The retirement of this aircraft involves a lot of planning and preparations. A working group has been established, consisting of highly motivated personnel who closely cooperate with Force Command Logistics (FCLE) and NATO’s Supply and Procurement Agency (NSPA). All these qualified individuals work as a team, doing their utmost to bring this task to a successful end,” Probst adds.

Mr. Willy Sluijsmans is the team leader of the 449 retirement project. "The parts that we are going to recover have a total value of 40 million U.S. dollars. Once these parts are removed, they will be assessed, re-certified and put back on the shelves in a serviceable condition,” he says. "Some parts are no longer on the market or have now become very expensive, making them extremely valuable to the Component. But first, before any specific part is removed, it will be tested to make sure it is still usable,” he says.

Mr. Thomas Roskam, also a member of the 449 retirement working group, adds, "This working group consists of personnel from the Electronic Maintenance, Aircraft Maintenance and Supply Squadrons, and the LW staff. We have developed a work card system for phases one and two, with workflow diagrams listing each and every part to be removed in a given order. By using this card system we can track and control all the work necessary for this project.”


Phase two starts once the aircraft lands in Arizona. A LW team of 10 people will be available upon arrival of 449 to defuel the E-3A, tow it to the assigned parking spot, and further prepare the aircraft for reclamation storage. 449 will be parked next to an old family member, one of NATO’s former Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCA). In August 2010, this TCA with tail number 19997 retired and was flown - just like 449 now - to this aircraft boneyard used for surplus military and government aircraft.

After 449’s arrival in Arizona, another 13 technicians will also be flown out there. The two LW teams will work together, removing as many parts as possible until end of July.

Roughly 30,000 lbs. of parts are being removed during phases one and two. For the time being, the prominent rotodome with a diameter of 9.1 meters will remain on the fuselage.

Component carpenters have constructed special wooden crates for transporting parts such as mission and flight control equipment from Arizona to Geilenkirchen.

The base’s Fire Fighter trucks gave a perfect double hose down to 449. (Photo by Hay Janssen)The dismantling in Arizona is going to be a tough job because the aircraft will be situated in the middle of the desert. Performing intensive manual labour in extremely hot temperatures without any air-conditioning is unpleasant for the technicians, also because rattlesnakes live in this area.

Phase three will start after all identified remaining parts have been dismantled by the Component’s Logistics Wing personnel. The jet will then be handed over to the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). This unit is contracted to store 449 for three years. Upon request by Force Command the AMARG can still remove parts and ship them to the E-3A Component when needed. After three years, this NATO E-3A aircraft will be scrapped.

449's Last Flight

"For this ‘one leg’ flight - a flight without any operational stops - we have a fully qualified flight deck crew flying 449 from Geilenkirchen, across the Atlantic Ocean, in the direction of Bangor, USA, passing the New England area where it will be air refuelled, with final destination Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, near Tucson, in Arizona,” explains Lt. Col. Frank Boshoff. He is an Evaluator Pilot and Head Flight Deck Branch in the Standardization and Evaluation Division. The flight deck crew for this flight will consist of an aircraft commander, two additional pilots, a flight engineer and a navigator, plus a communication technician.

Lt. Col. Ekkehard Heinichen, Safety Officer and navigator for this flight says, "All flight equipment must remain in place when the technicians start the dismantling process. All flight deck controls have to stay valid and legal. This also applies to the communication section, all electronic equipment, air-conditioning, galley and toilet.”

Boshoff adds, "The removal of mission deck equipment will change the weight, and this affects the behaviour of the aircraft. It is therefore important to perform a confidence flight prior to the cross- Atlantic flight, to verify that everything works according to technical orders, staying in a legal condition to fly.”

449's Career

During 449’s NATO career between August 19, 1983, and May 13, 2015, the airframe gathered 22,206.29 flight hours, operating out of 21 different countries: Afghanistan, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Djibouti, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the USA. Also, it flew over Europe, North America, Asia and Africa in support of NATO operational activities.

Aircraft 449 contributed to the success of operations such as the very recent Operation Afghan Assist, flying 152 missions and 1,533.75 flight hours, mainly from Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

In support of Assurance missions, aircraft 449 flew 25 missions and 205.7 flight hours.

In January 2015, the aircraft participated in its last overseas exercises: one called COMPTUEX, in Virginia, USA, followed the February-March exercise Red Flag, in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

The last maintenance work was done on May 12, 2015, when one tire and a brake had to be exchanged.

On May 13, 2015, 449’s last mission – an 11.5 hour Assurance Mission - was flown by an international crew consisting of 10 different nationalities. Upon landing, five crew chiefs performed the inspection.


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