AWACS Jet Uses Tulsa To Practice Takeoffs And Landings

Thursday, June 4th 2015, 2:22 pm
By: Richard Clark

An unusual airplane made a visit to Tulsa's air space on Thursday.

It's called an E-3 Sentry AWACS.

The 4-engine jet is a converted Boeing 707 jetliner. The biggest difference between the jetliner version and the AWACS version is the huge, spinning disk on top of the rear fuselage of the E-3.

The disk is actually a radome that houses a very powerful radar. The radome is 30 feet in diameter and 6 feet thick. 

AWACS stands for Airborne Warning and Control System. The U.S. Air Force uses  AWACS planes to scan vast sections of the sky for any airborne threat to American and allied forces.

This E-3 jet probably belongs to the 552nd Air Control Wing based at Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City. Each jet usually carries 17 to 23 crew members, four to fly the jet and the rest to operate the equipment.

Visit the 552nd's web site.

The flight crews have to get a minimum number of takeoffs and landings every month to maintain their proficiency, so that sometimes means doing "touch-and-goes" at a convenient airport.

Tulsa International Airport is handy because it has a very long runway and with relatively light traffic. The jet will make several landings without coming to a stop, immediately taking off again and making a giant loop around Tulsa and its suburbs, repeating the process until the flight crew has completed its training.

2/5/2015: Related Story: Mysterious 'Nightwatch' Aircraft Visits Tulsa Again

TIA has also attracted another large, but more mysterious, U.S. Air Force jet. In February, an E-4B Nightwatch came to town, also to practice takeoffs and landings. 

Nightwatch jets are based in Omaha and usually visit Tulsa only once a year or two. AWACS jets, on the other hand, are a much more common sight. One visited Tulsa just a couple of weeks ago.