Flight testing the potential to refuel E-2 Hawkeyes recently concluded successfully:
During flight tests in December and early January, the Hawkeye program (PMA-231) fitted an E-2C with a refueling test probe and successfully connected to tanker aircraft over the skies of Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. Test and evaluation squadron VX-20 conducted the simulations using the Navy’s KC-130 and newest tanker aircraft, the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
VX-20’s testing event marks the first time that a Navy E-2 demonstrated plugging to the basket. The E-2 aircraft sported a test probe – half of the refueling probe and drogue (basket) system used on a variety of Navy tactical aircraft today.
No fuel was actually transferred during the testing.
Program engineer Chris Gay said if the Navy formalizes a refueling program for the E-2, more follow-on testing will include evaluating the performance during unusual or difficult operations.
“These tests would be performed in less-than-ideal weather conditions and mission scenarios with a variety of tanker aircraft,” said Jason Brys, another program engineer.
During testing, the aircraft plugged into the basket without actually refueling, to evaluate flying qualities, noise, field of view and basket movement during the normal process of transferring fuel. The team made 16 successful connections with a KC-130 Dec. 19 and connected with a Super Hornet from Patuxent River test and evaluation squadron VX-23 in a flight lasting just over an hour Jan. 5.
The program will evaluate testing results to determine whether it is beneficial to create a full testing program.
If the program goes operational, the re-fueling capability will probably be added first to the E-2 Hawkeye 2000 planes. It will also be available on the upcoming E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes as a retrofit.
Another upgrade to the Hawkeye, already underway, is the switch to an 8-bladed prop. Counter-intuitively, the 8-bladed props have fewer parts than the standard 4-blade version. Also, each blade can be worked on individually while the 4-blade props required the entire prop assembly to be removed. And they’re quieter.
Here’s a good look at the new props on a Hawkeye:
Pic from the DoD’s Dec 2004 Transformation photo archive.