Military Aviation


First E-3 with DRAGON modification

As reported by 552nd Air Control Wing in the article New year, new Sentry – DRAGON, the first E-3 Sentry aircraft with the glass flight deck modification known as DRAGON (Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation) arrived at Tinker Air Force Base (AFB) Jan. 9, 2017.

“Today marks a significant chapter in this wing’s history, as we prepare our Airmen for tomorrow’s challenges. This is the first of 24 modified E-3s that we will receive over the next eight years. Fleet modernization efforts increase our aviators’ capability to establish, project and sustain battle management support to combatant commanders,” said Col. David Gaedecke, the 552nd Air Control Wing (ACW) commander.

DRAGON is a U.S. Air Force (USAF) and NATO cooperative development effort to upgrade the cockpits of their E-3 Sentry (AWACS) aircraft. This cooperative effort is important because it leverages the 95 percent design commonality between the U.S. and NATO AWACS and promotes interoperability, interchangeability, cost sharing and a common sustainment and logistics pipeline.

Moreover DRAGON provides three primary benefits to the warfighter.

First, it ensures compliance with current and future air traffic control requirements in international and domestic airspace. This allows crews access to Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum airspace and optimal flight levels increasing fuel efficiency and reducing clearance delays.

Secondly, it replaces 1970s analog technology with commercially viable digital flight management systems. Some of the avionics indicators include multicolor graphic displays that customize and accurately portray engine, navigation and radar data. Additionally, DRAGON adds the Mode-5 Identification Friend or Foe and provides Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast. These two capabilities are critical to aircraft modernization that drastically increases situational awareness and enhances flight safety.

Optimizing crew resource management

Finally, it automates the navigation functions by optimizing crew resource management during flight operations. This system increases the navigational data reservoir encompassing GPS data to comply with new International Civil Aviation Organization and Air Force regulations. Additionally, the weather radar system safeguards aircrew by predicting and highlighting hazardous weather conditions.

“With the flight deck modernization, we are able to replace aging avionics, exponentially increasing our capabilities and reducing costly maintenance on the fleet,” said Lt. Col. Chris Hansen, the 552nd ACW DRAGON project officer. “The DRAGON upgrade brings our fleet into the modern age and will provide a greater operational capacity beyond 2025.”

The wing and program office expedited the aircraft delivery to complete post-system test requirements, in conjunction with scheduled maintenance. The 552nd ACW will be able to train on DRAGON from Tinker AFB; significantly reducing maintenance and operational costs.

“The arrival of this aircraft is the result of six years of hard work and dedication by the E-3 System Program Office, NATO E-3 Modernization Team and our very own program officers,” Gaedecke said.

“They have done a phenomenal job. Over the next year, aircrew and maintenance personnel will be training and performing operational testing and certifications on DRAGON.” Gaedecke said.

This modernization will bring a whole new level of communication, navigation and surveillance to the U.S. and NATO E-3 operational community.

Inside the cockpit of the first of 24 E-3 Sentry (AWAC) aircraft to undergo glass flight deck modification known as DRAGON. The modification provides three primary benefits to the warfighter. It ensures compliance with current and future air traffic control requirements, it replaces 1970s analog technology, and it automates the navigation functions by optimizing crew resource management during flight operations.

Photo credit: Kelly White / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

SR-71 pilot recalls when his RSO Flipped Off a French Air Force Mirage III Pilot (Then They lit their Blackbird’s Afterburners and Outran him)

The SR-71 Blackbird The SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft was the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft and the… Read More

5 hours ago

USAF to test F-16 “Super Squadron” concept in South Korea

F-16 “Super Squadron” concept in South Korea Seventh Air Force has begun initial aircraft and… Read More

6 hours ago

USAF T-39A Pilot who Classified First in his UPT Class Tells why He Chose to Fly the Sabreliner Business Jet instead of the F-15 Eagle Fighter Jet

The F-15 Eagle The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter designed to… Read More

1 day ago

The K-19, the first Soviet nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine that experienced a reactor failure on the first missile-firing voyage

The K-19 Project 658 (NATO reporting name Hotel I-class) K-19, the first Soviet nuclear-powered strategic… Read More

2 days ago

USAF F-16 Pilot explains why a Viper is more comfortable than a commercial airplane for long-haul flights

Fighter pilots Utilizing extraordinary skill and precision, fighter pilots push their aircraft’s limits with complete… Read More

2 days ago