Modern Day

Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye – Eye in the Sky

The E-2 Hawkeye is a small airborne early warning aircraft that has arguably the most important job in the US Navy. Nicknamed the ‘Hummer’ thanks to the unique sound of the turboprop engines, this excellent machine has been exported to several other armed forces.

Let us take a deeper look into what makes this such a valued tool in the US Navy.


Inception and Design

In the mid-50s the E-1 Tracer was introduced to the US Navy with Airborne Early Warning (AEW) capability, with a very bulbous teardrop-shaped object sitting atop the wings of a small, stubby aircraft.

Whilst this looked unusual, it provided tactical battlefield data to other aircraft flying from US carriers. It was essentially a flying radar system.

Realizing the potential of the ability to gain vital information and stay ahead of the enemy, shortly after the E-‘s introduction a requirement was set out for its replacement: the E-2 Hawkeye.

The E-1 Tracer was replaced by the E-2.
The unusual looking E-1 Tracer.

For these types of aircraft, endurance is key. The requirements stated the E-2 had to have a 6-hour endurance, so fuel efficiency was extremely important

This was achieved thanks to two Rolls Royce T56-A-427 turboprop engines putting down 5,100 shaft horsepower (3,800 kW) each.

Thanks to these powerful and fuel-efficient engines, the E-2 can reach a top speed of 400 mph (650 km/h) and has a range of over 1,600 miles.

Being a carried-based aircraft, folding wings were also high on the list of priorities to save space.

The first Prototype E-2 flew just four years after the E-1 and in 1964 the E-2A joined the US Navy.

Hawkeye E-2 1976.
The E-2’s unique appearance is a result of its specialised nature.

But all did not go to plan. These small aircraft contained huge amounts of electronics that would overheat quickly without proper ventilation. These problems persisted to the point where the entire fleet was grounded and the project was cancelled, despite 59 aircraft being built.

Someone needed to explain why contracts had been signed before the avionics testing had been completed. The situation forced Grumman to scramble and drastically improve the design. Much of the original computer equipment had to be replaced and 49 out of the 59 aircraft were upgraded to E-2B standard.

E-2C Upgrades

Despite the effort that had been made with the B variant, further improvements were required. In 1968 the next upgrade program was launched. All 49 E-2Bs were to be upgraded as well as 28 new E-2Cs ordered.

The upgrades mainly focused on computer systems and radar performance.

E-2C Hawkeye
The E-2C contained many upgrades that allowed it to remain in service for decades.

The updated aircraft could aide F-14 Tomcats in tracking and destroying threats from long range using AIM-54 missiles.

These E-2Cs were used until the 1990s when they were replaced by newer built aircraft for the same specification, with ever so slight tweaks to the engines and radar.

Advanced Hawkeye

To bring the E-2 into the 21st century, it underwent a complete overhaul. The list of improvements is huge and includes a full glass cockpit, aerial refuelling, new engines, radio suite, new radar and updated satellite communications to name a few.

Most incredibly, the new radar – the APY-9 – is actually capable of detecting fighter-sized stealth aircraft such as the Su-57 and some of the newer Chinese fighter types.

An E-2 D Hawkeye over Naval Station Norfolk
The E-2D can directly contribute in combat by guiding other aircrafts’ missiles.

But this is not the radar’s only trick. Another important aspect is to guide weapons from other aircraft. It is possible for the E-2D to guide AIM-120 and SM-6 missiles fired from other aircraft to targets outside the range of the fighter that launched it.

If that does not impress you, then we’re not sure what will!

Deliveries started in 2010 and serves as physical proof that even a 60-year-old designs can still be relevant today.

Does the E-2 Hawkeye have weapons?

The E-2C Hawkeye does have weapons. The E-2C variant of the Hawkeye aircraft first became operational in 1973. Over the next decades, the E-2C Hawkeye was upgraded multiple times. These upgrades include a new computer, satellite communications, and improved radar graphics. The newest version of the E-2C also has a Aegis Weapon System.

Operation History

The E-2 has seen combat missions since its inception and has become known for being the eyes of the fleets it serves. In 1981 an E-2 directed two F-14 Tomcats to intercept a pair of Libyan Su-22s, which were subsequently shot down.

More recently, during Operation Desert Storm, an E-2C guided a pair of F/A-18s to shoot down Iraqi MiG-21s.

Despite being quite literally cancelled shortly after its introduction into service, the E-2 has had an incredible and long lasting military career.

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Crew: 5
Length: 57 ft 8 in (17.5 m)
Wingspan: 80 ft 7 in (24.5 m)
Height: 18 ft 3 in (5.5m)
Empty weight: 40,200 lb (18,234 kg)
Gross weight: 43,068 lb (19,535 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 57,500 lb (26,082 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Allison/Rolls-Royce T56-A-427 turboprops, 5,100 shp each
Maximum speed: 350 kn (400 mph, 650 km/h)
Cruise speed: 256 kn (295 mph, 474 km/h)
Ferry range: 1,462 nmi (1,682 mi, 2,708 km)
Endurance: 6 hours (8 hours land-based)[92]
Service ceiling: 34,700 ft (10,600 m)