Search our content

Home  /  Organisation  /  AWACS Fleet & Crew

AWACS Fleet & Crew

The Fleet

The E-3A Component has fourteen E-3A aircraft. These modified Boeing 707s are easily identifiable from the distinctive radar dome mounted on the fuselage. They are equipped with long-range radar and passive sensors capable of detecting air and surface contacts over large distances. 

By using pulse Doppler radar, an E-3A flying within NATO airspace can distinguish between targets and ground reflections and is therefore able to give early warning of low- or high-flying aircraft operating over the territory of a potential aggressor.

The aircraft is able to detect, track, identify and report potentially hostile aircraft operating at low altitudes, as well as to provide fighter control of Allied aircraft. It can simultaneously track and identify maritime contacts, and provide coordination support to Allied surface forces. Information collected by AWACS can be transmitted directly – via digital links – from the aircraft to other users on land, at sea or in the air in near real time.

The E-3A usually operates at an altitude of around 10 km. From this altitude a single E-3A can constantly monitor the airspace out to approximately 400 km. Three aircraft operating in overlapping, coordinated orbits can provide unbroken radar coverage of the whole of Central Europe.

Technical specifications

Wingspan: 44.45 m / 145 ft 9 in

Length: 46.68 m / 152 ft 11 in

Height: 12.70 m / 41 ft 9 in


Diameter: 9.1 m / 30 ft

Thickness: 1.8 m / 6 ft

Height: 3.35 m / 11 ft

Rotation: once every 10 seconds


Radar coverage: One E-3A flying at 30,000 ft / 9,150 m has over 312,000 km² in its field of view. Three E-3As in overlapping orbits can provide complete coverage of Central Europe. An E-3A can detect low flying targets within 400 km or 215 nautical miles; and at medium altitude targets within 520 km or 280 nautical miles. 


Armament: None.

Power plant: Four TF-33 Pratt & Whitney 100A turbofan engines.

Speed: More than 800 km / 500 miles per hour

Operational altitude: Above 9,150 m / 30,000 ft

Maximum take-off weight:  147,429 kg / 325,000 lbs

Fuel capacity: 89,610 litres / 70,371 kg or 22,768 gallons / 148,000 lbs

Endurance: More than 10 hours (unrefuelled). All air-refuelable.

The Crew 

In order to operate the complex equipment on an AWACS, the E-3A has a crew of minimum 15 drawn from a variety of branches and trades, all of whom are extensively trained in their respective roles. The maximum crew the E-3A can accommodate is 33.

The total number depends on the mission.

Flight Deck

2 Pilots
1 Flight Engineer

Mission crew

1 Tactical Director
1 Fighter Allocator
2 Weapons Controllers
1 Surveillance Controller
3 Surveillance Operators
1 Passive Controller
1 Communications Technician
1 Radar Technician
1 System Technician

Flight Deck


The Aircraft Commander (AC) is the pilot in command and is responsible for the safety of the aircraft and its occupants. Both pilots are fully qualified to operate the aircraft. Pilots ensure 'hands on' time is shared evenly.

The First Pilot (FP) is also responsible for radio communication and the monitoring of navigation radio aids when not in control of the aircraft.

The Flight Engineer (FE) is responsible for monitoring the engine power and flight performance of the aircraft.

Mission Crew

Surveillance Team

The Surveillance Controller (SC) provides an optimum radar picture and operates the digital data links commands the surveillance team.

 Working for the Surveillance Controller are three Surveillance Operators (SOs) and a Passive Controller (PC) who assist the SC to compile the recognized air and surface picture for transmission to the ground and other airborne units.

The Passive Controller (PC) is responsible to enhance the air picture, ID procedures and E-3A self-protection through passive detection of emitters and platforms.


Weapons Team

The weapons team is headed by the Fighter Allocator (FA), who is responsible for the safe conduct of all aircraft, which have been allocated to the E-3A to control.

The two Weapons Controllers (WCs) can control a wide variety of air missions including Offensive and Defensive Counter Air operations using fighters, Close Air Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction using bombers and a wide variety of operational support aircraft.

Airborne Technicians

Because of the complexity of the on-board systems, the E-3A employs airborne technicians who initialize, monitor and provide basic maintenance of the highly sophisticated mission equipment:

The Communications Technician (CT) initializes, manages and monitors the highly sophisticated on-board communication equipment.

The System Technician (ST) initializes, runs and maintains the on-board computer systems, which are the heart of the mission equipment.

The Radar Technician (RT) runs the mission radar without which there would be no mission. They liaise with the SC and the ST to provide the best possible radar picture for the surveillance and weapons teams to work with.


Search our content:


Airborne Early Warning
& Control Force

P.O. Box 40800
Lilienthalallee 100
52511 Geilenkirchen

Media Operations

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 40800
Lilienthalallee 100
52511 Geilenkirchen