New year, new Sentry – DRAGON

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- 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 Jan. 9.

“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, 552nd Air Control Wing commander.     

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 avionic indictors 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.

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, 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; 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,” said Colonel Gaedecke.

“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. This upgrade will increase surveillance, communication, and navigation capabilities across the E-3 fleet,” the colonel said.