October 4, 2011

United States’ E-4B National Airborne Command Center returns to duty


References: Boeing (1), US Air Force (2), The Aviation Zone (3)

News Report

As reported in a recent press release, Boeing has successfully completed a regularly scheduled programmed depot maintenance (PDM) on one of the United States’ four E-4B National Airborne Command Centers on schedule. The E-4B was returned to home station Offutt Air Force Base, in Nebraska, on Sept. 19.

A Boeing field team at Offutt Air Force Base now will support final modifications to return the aircraft to operational status. The aircraft was delivered from Boeing’s E-4B partner L-3 in Greenville, Texas, where it received new paint, following maintenance and some minor modifications performed at Boeing’s Global Services & Support facility in Wichita.

The System

The Boeing E-4B serves as the National Airborne Operations Center for the president, secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In case of national emergency or destruction of ground command control centers, the aircraft provides a highly survivable, command, control and communications center to direct U.S. forces, execute emergency war orders and coordinate actions by civil authorities. To provide direct support to the president, secretary of defense and the Joint Chief of Staff, at least one E-4B is always on alert at one of many selected bases throughout the world.

The E-4B is a militarized version of the Boeing 747-200. It is a four-engine, swept-wing, long-range, high-altitude airplane capable of being refueled in flight.

The main deck is divided into six functional areas: a command work area, conference room, briefing room, an operations team work area, and communications and rest areas. An E-4B crew may include up to 112 people, including a joint-service operations team, an ACC flight crew, a maintenance and security component, a communications team and selected augmentees.

The E-4B has electromagnetic pulse protection, an electrical system designed to support advanced electronics and a wide variety of communications equipment. Other improvements include nuclear and thermal effects shielding, acoustic control, an improved technical control facility and an upgraded air-conditioning system for cooling electrical components. An advanced satellite communications system improves worldwide communications among strategic and tactical satellite systems and the airborne operations center.

The Context

The E-4B evolved from the E-4A, which had been in service since late 1974. The first B model was delivered to the Air Force in January 1980, and by 1985 all aircraft were converted to B models. All E-4B are assigned to the 55th Wing, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

In August 1994, the E-4B assumed an additional role. With the approval of the JCS chairman, the E-4B supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) request for assistance when a natural disaster occurs. The E-4B may be asked to fly the FEMA Emergency Response Team to the disaster site, and become the FEMA command and control center until the emergency team's own equipment and facilities can be set up. With E-4B support, the emergency team's response is a matter of hours, as opposed to days.

Air Combat Command (ACC) is the Air Force single-resource manager for the E-4B, and provides aircrew, maintenance, security and communications support. The Joint Chiefs of Staff actually control E-4B operations and provide personnel for the airborne operations center.

Comments

This was an extremely challenging programmed depot maintenance because of the over-and-above issues that we uncovered on this aging aircraft,” said Glenn Winkler, Boeing program manager for the E-4B. “It is very important that we perform well because there are only four of these jets in the fleet, so getting it back into service as quickly as possible is very important to our customer.

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