TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (KFOR) – On a morning fit for a funeral, light rain and gray skies, a few of the remaining Airborne Warning and Control System (or AWACS) E-3s were standing ready but silent on the tarmac.
One of them next in line for a trip to dry storage in Arizona, a fitting retirement for lots of old things.
For this air frame, a gradual one.
Col. Kelly is commander of the 552nd Air Wing and in charge of the big switch from the heavy version of the 707 air frame to a newer aircraft built on a Boeing 737 framework.
Inside Dock 4, another E-3 is undergoing what’s called an ‘isochronal inspection’.
Everything gets a thorough going over.
The old E-3s still need to be ready to fly for 7 to 10 years.
The airmen and women performing the mission to extend the life of these aircraft might not even remember their time as an air passenger workhorse.
My own history with the E-3 and the 552nd goes back to December of 1990 as I was invited along to an active-duty mission over the sands of the Middle East during Operation Desert Shield.
Name a conflict or national emergency and former AWACS Commander Brig. General (retired) Ben Robinson insists the E-3 was probably in the area watching the skies.
From software experts like Colonel Jaclyn McCormick, who works the back of the aircraft, to pilots like Captain Dmitri Venus, who work the controls in front, the eye is still on the mission, with a very small window to look both to the past and the future.
Late in the afternoon, skies clear, and a regular schedule of flights continue.
10 of the E-3s have already flown for good.
2 more are scheduled to fly in the coming days.
But the watch and the mission continue.
For more information on the E-7, the new air frame the AWACS will soon deploy, go to the Boeing website.
For more information on the AWACS 552nd Air Wing, go to their website.
Great State is sponsored by Oklahoma Proton Center