Testing the E-2D: Logistics supportability as critical as functionality

The art of war is the art of the logistically feasible.

Admiral Hyman Rickover

One of the Navy’s most powerful warplanes carries no weapons. It can’t bomb the enemy or blast it from the sky. But with the odd-looking radar dome it carries on top, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is the eyes and ears for the airplanes that do.

HTii’s Mike Harkins spent two weeks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) with the Tiger Tails of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125, here about to launch an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye from the flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Our job is to see what’s out there and provide the information to somebody else who can do something about it,” said Lt. Cmdr. Antonio Alemar, former E-2D operational test director for Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VX-1) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

“If it’s friendly, we make sure nobody shoots it,” he said. “If it’s unfriendly, we make sure our guys know it.”

HTii's Mike Harkins (L) and Lt. Cmdr. Antonio Alemar discuss propeller spare parts issues for an E-2D in the hangar for maintenance. (U.S. Navy photo, MC2 Kenneth Abbate)

HTii’s Mike Harkins (L) and Lt. Cmdr. Antonio Alemar discuss propeller spare parts issues for an E-2D in the hangar for maintenance. (U.S. Navy photo, MC2 Kenneth Abbate)

Alemar’s team is testing the latest radar upgrade in one of the two E-2Ds assigned to VX-1, something that’s done routinely when new systems are added to the airplane or an existing system is improved. A big part of the testing is determining if the system does what it’s supposed to do. Does the radar beam, for example, emit the right power levels at the correct frequencies?

But there’s another less obvious side to testing that’s equally important, said Mike Harkins, a VX-1 contractor from HTii in Lexington Park, Maryland.

“A system may work great initially, but what does it cost to maintain it?” Harkins said. “Is it reliable enough, available enough? Is it always breaking? How long does it take to fix it?”

Cooling systems with air intake scoops at the top and starboard side control the heat produced by the massive amounts of electronics inside the aircraft. (Northrop Grumman photo)

Cooling systems with air intake scoops at the top and starboard side control the heat produced by the massive amounts of electronics inside the aircraft. (Northrop Grumman photo)

Those questions fall under the heading of “logistics supportability.” And they’re answered with a series of evaluations that feed metrics indicating a system’s reliability, maintainability and availability (RMA), said Harkins, an RMA analyst.

For the E-2D Alemar assigned Harkins, as one of his tasks, to analyze more than a year’s worth of maintenance and supply data to determine the system’s mean logistics delay time for parts, which is one of the factors affecting the RMA metrics. The logistics support information helps the program make critical decisions so the fleet can meet its readiness goals.

Sailors move an E-2D Hawkeye outside the VX-1 hangar at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. (U.S. Navy photo)

Sailors move an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye outside the VX-1 hangar at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. (U.S. Navy photo)

Given its vastly improved capabilities, the E-2D has plenty of new parts. Although it’s outwardly similar to its E-2C predecessor, inside, the E-2D is much different: upgraded radar, improved communications, enhanced identification friend or foe (IFF) capability, an all-glass cockpit with new liquid crystal displays replacing the old needle gauges and much greater computer processing power.

“Overall it’s a quantum leap in capability from the E-2C,” Alemar said.

An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye assigned to the Tiger Tails of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron One Two five (VAW-125) flies over Naval Station Norfolk. (U.S. Navy photo)

With these new systems there’s a great need for a reliable supply support infrastructure to repair them.

“If we can’t support these planes logistically, we can’t keep them in the air,” Harkins said.

For his analysis Harkins has queried data from several sources including the Navy’s Optimized Organizational Maintenance Activity (OOMA) database and aircrew kneeboard cards. He’s also gone through hundreds of Maintenance Action Forms, checked the data they contain and verified it through interviews with maintenance staff. And he spent three weeks on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) gathering data from aircrews in the Navy’s first deployed E-2D squadron, Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron One Two Five (VAW-125).

The data all goes into a Test Information Management System (TIMS), which is then ranked against deficiency and failures ground rules during Test Scoring Boards once or twice a week “to see what problems are coming up,” Harkins said.

Lt. Cmdr. Antonio Alemar, call sign "Fes," flew the E-2D as a naval test pilot for VX-20 at Pax River. (U.S. Navy photo, MC2 Kenneth Abbate)

Lt. Cmdr. Antonio Alemar, call sign “Fes,” flew the E-2D as a flight officer pilot for VX-20 at Patuxent River, Maryland. (U.S. Navy photo, MC2 Kenneth Abbate)

For the logistics supportability review he’s conducting, TIMS serves as the repository and analytical tool to produce a final report that will be submitted for signature by VX-1’s parent command, Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COMOPTEVFOR) in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Once Mike puts together an accurate report, I can go to the program manager and say, ‘You should focus your energy here, where we have deficiencies, and not there, where we don’t’,” said Alemar, who flew the E-2C with fleet squadrons VAW-126 and VAW-115 and the E-2D as a naval flight test officer in Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Zero (VX-20) at Patuxent River before his tour at VX-1.

He said his goal is to provide today’s E-2D aircrews with capabilities above and beyond what he had.

“Been there, done that – saw what worked and what didn’t,” Alemar said. “I’m only pleased when our work makes a difference in effective capability for the fleet.”

 

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye

The Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is the latest variant of the E-2 aircraft, which first entered service more than 50 years ago. This newest model is expected to replace its predecessor E-2C version, which is currently planned to be retired from service by fiscal year 2027.

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft conduct a test flight near St. Augustine, Fla. (Northrop Grumman photo)

The E-2D goes to sea on an aircraft carrier along with other Navy warplanes – the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and eventually the F-35 Lightning II. On a mission it’s launched from a catapult like the other aircraft to act as their digital quarterback, sweeping sea, sky and land with its powerful AN/APY-9 radar to search for enemy and friendly forces alike.

The E-2D is equipped with swept-back "scimitar" propellers, which also have been retrofitted on the predecessor E-2C. Sweeping the blades back reduces drag due to shock wave buildup, just as airplane wings are swept back for high-speed flight.  Since the outer blade tips travel faster than the inner root near the hub, the sweep angle increases toward the tip, forming the curved shape of a scimitar sword. The new prop assembly comprises eight blades compared to four in the older version, adding more thrust at a lower rpm. The new design has the further advantage that blades can be removed individually for maintenance instead of the entire propeller assembly. (Northrop Grumman photo)

The E-2D is equipped with swept-back “scimitar” propellers, which also have been retrofitted on the predecessor E-2C. Sweeping the blades back reduces drag due to shock wave buildup, just as airplane wings are swept back for high-speed flight. Since the outer blade tips travel faster than the inner root near the hub, the sweep angle increases toward the tip, forming the curved shape of a scimitar sword. The new prop assembly comprises eight blades compared to four in the older version, adding more thrust at a lower rpm. The new design has the further advantage that blades can be removed individually for maintenance instead of the entire propeller assembly. (Northrop Grumman photo)

The large radar dome is the aircraft’s most salient feature. Although the dome looks as if it would weigh the plane down, it actually has “neutral lift.” The curved upper and lower surfaces of the dome provide enough lift from air flowing past to support its own weight.

The dome isn’t the only unusual thing about the Hawkeye. Although the latest version, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, is one of the Navy’s newest airplanes, it still flies the old-fashioned way: with propellers.

“What the propeller system gives you is efficiency at slower speeds with a longer loitering time,” said Alemar.

Manufactured by Northrop Grumman, the E-2D is 57′ 7″ long and 18′ 4″ high with an 80′ 7″ wingspan. It cruises at approximately 300 miles per hour and carries a crew of five.