E-3 Sentry Displays Massive "Flying Saucer" for All to See

There are many weirdly shaped military aircraft flying in the skies of the world these days, but one has to admit few of them are as strange as the E-3 Sentry. And that’s not because of its overall shape, which is kind of bland, but on account of that large flying saucer thingy that seems to have landed on top of it, and decided to stay.
E-3 Sentry (AWACS) on refueling mission 6 photos
Photo: USAF/Staff Sgt. Trevor McBride
E-3 Sentry (AWACS)E-3 Sentry (AWACS)E-3 Sentry (AWACS)E-3 Sentry (AWACS)E-3 Sentry (AWACS) on refueling mission
Also known as the AWACS (airborne warning and control system), the Sentry is at its core a Boeing 707/320 commercial airliner. It is powered by four Pratt and Whitney turbofan engines, has a crew of up to 19 people, and can travel as far as 5,000 nautical miles (9,250 km) on a single outing.

Nothing spectacular there, of course, but it’s that flying saucer that makes the thing unique. It’s actually a dome, 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter and 6-feet (1.8 meters) thick, that houses a potent rotating radar.

The dome is propped on two struts, one on each side of the plane, and it is used by the Sentry to provide “situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity.” In simpler words, that means the plane flies above an area of interest, out of reach of the enemy, to look ahead and provide friendlies with the data they need to conduct effective war.

The plane has been around since the 1970s, but, because of the nature of its job, it’s not such a constant presence in the U.S. Air Force's (USAF) media materials. Yet here is one, in a still captured back in February last year, and published by the military as part of its Year in Photos release.

It shows an AWACS flying “over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,“ as it chased a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 350th Expeditionary Aircraft Refueling Squadron, on a refueling mission.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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