August 4, 2021 6.49 pm This story is over 27 months old

E-3D Sentry lands at RAF Waddington after final mission

The end of an era for the AWACS

The Boeing E-3D Sentry has returned to its home base at RAF Waddington after its final mission on Operation Shader, bringing to a close 30 years of operational service. 

The Sentry aircraft flew its final operational sortie on July 30 over Iraq as part of the counter-Daesh Op Shader and returned to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on Wednesday, August 4.

The aircraft from No.8 Squadron had been deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and was the latest and last deployment since 2015. 

The E-3D Sentry will be retired later this year and will be replaced in 2023 by a fleet of three Boeing E-7 Wedgetails that will operate from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.

During the period between retirement and the Wedgetail becoming operational, the ISTAR requirements will be covered by a combination of other aircraft and E-3s from NATO partners.

Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group, Air Vice -Marshall Al Marshall, speaking to the crew of ZH101 after they returned safely from Op SHADER. | Photo: SAC Shauna Martin RAF / MOD

Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group, Air Vice -Marshall Al Marshall, holding a toast to the crew of ZH101 after their return flight from Op SHADER. | Photo: SAC Shauna Martin RAF / MOD

Describing the aircraft’s lengthy service, the Commander of the Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Force, Air Commodore Nicholas Hay said: “Whilst this moment is undoubtedly the time for all those who enabled Numbers 8, 23 54 and 56 Squadrons’ endeavours in the air to look back with immense pride and satisfaction.

“We have continued to learn much that will ensure other ISTAR platforms, including the new Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning aircraft, are able to maintain a significant operational edge going forwards.”

NATO Commander, Officer Commanding 8 Squadron, Station Commander, Air Officer Commanding 1 Group, Deputy ISTAR Force Commander, Deputy NATO AEW&C Force Commander and ZH101’s crew. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull RAF

The E-3D Sentry, entered RAF service in 1991 as part of the RAF’s ISTAR fleet and was immediately deployed to support Air Operations during the first Gulf War. 

Since then the Sentry aircraft have been involved in UK operations ever since including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the broader Middle East and the Caribbean, together with a NATO role. 

The Sentry is also known as the Airborne Warning and Control System or AWACS.

This recent deployment has seen operational sorties being flown on Op Shader, and also sorties to support Operation Fortis, the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Carrier Strike Group.

A member of the Royal Air Force greeting his children under the wing of the aircraft for the first time since deployment. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

Describing its most recent missions, the Officer Commanding 8 Sqn, Wing Commander Victoria Williams said: “The deployment of the Sentry fleet to RAF Akrotiri in support of the maiden operational deployment of the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and operations in the Middle-East has been a resounding success.

“This was the first operational detachment of the fleet since 2016 and involved a Whole Force of RAF, Reservists and contractors to deliver 30 missions in 9 weeks. 

“The Sentry was able to provide the recognised air and surface picture to the Carrier Strike Group to facilitate its safe transit from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Suez. 

“The skills and experience of Sentry crews, particularly those developed through working closely with naval assets during this deployment, will now be re-invested. The E-7 Wedgetail programme will enter service in 2023, replacing Sentry as the RAF’s Airborne Early Warning and Airborne Command & Control platform.”

The RAF families waving as their family comes off the aircraft and a banner held by two little girls. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

An officer holding his children for the first time since deployment.| Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

Deployed personnel reuniying with their children for the first time. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

A family holding a banner made to greet their family as they land back from deployment. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

An officer greeting his child for the first time since deployment and two children in the background running towards their family member out of frame. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

A deployed member of the Royal Air Force greeting his family. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

Reflecting on the return of the E-3D Sentry to RAF Waddington Group Captain Robert O’Dell, the Deputy Head Capability at the ISTAR Force HQ said: “I am exceptionally proud to have been associated with Sentry in a variety of operational aircrew, training, test and support roles since it entered service in 1991. Sentry has defined my career and it is inevitably with mixed feelings I now find myself involved with its retirement.  

“However, all E-3D aircrew, groundcrew and supporting civilians should feel justifiably proud of the enormous contribution it has made to NATO and UK Air Policing, combat and humanitarian operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as countering drug-smuggling in the Caribbean.”

The crew passing down luggage down the stairs from the aircarft. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

E-3D, ZH101, on the 8 Squadron pan after landing at RAF Waddington. | Photo: SAC James Skerrett RAF / MOD

The last Royal Air Force E3-D Sentry Aircraft landing back at is home base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire after its final Operational Tour. | Photo: Sgt Nik Howe / MOD