A $368 million EMD (Engineering Manufacturing and Development) Defense contract with Boeing will finally see both NATO and USAF fleets of E3-A/B/C Sentry Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS) retrofitted with advanced digital flight decks. The 32 E-3s aircraft in the US Air Force inventory along with the 16 aircraft operated by NATO, all delivered between 1977 and 1985 have been some of the most recognized military derivatives of the legendary Boeing 707-320B designed in the 1950’s. Despite continuous upgrades to the AWACS battle management/radar processing systems,enhancing the rotating dome-mounted AN/APY-2 radar performance under the current Block 40/45 configuration, the E-3 Sentry have mostly retained obsolescent analog cockpit flight instruments. The upgrade works on the aircraft that are scheduled to take place between 2013 and 2015 at Boeing Seattle facility will finally allow the AWACS fleet to operate without restriction in crowded airspace where precision navigation and minimum/reduced separation standards between aircraft are in effects under the International Civil Aviation Organization rulings.
The new state-of-the-art digital flight deck layout proposed by Boeing consists of 5 main Multi-Function glass Displays integrating an open architecture originating from the Boeing 737NG program. Boeing will rely on proven expertise and materials from Rockwell Collins for the flight management system suite (air-data and flight-management computers) as well as Telephonics of New York, Thales of Belgium, EMS of Canada and Raytheon of Maryland. Once the new flight systems are operational alongside the very recent Block 40/45 radar processing/battle management configuration upgrade, the E-3 Sentry fleet would have secured the critical uninterrupted sourcing of new replacement parts for at least the next 20 years.
In comparison, various similar programs have already been successfully undertaken on other high value aerial assets whose strategic and operational status remain critical to the US combat posture.
In the case of the 16-aircraft strong Boeing E-6B Mercury fleet (another Boeing 707-320B derivatives) delivered to the US Navy between 1989 and 1992, a cockpit upgrade based on the 737-700 has been effectively implemented between 1999 and 2003. Fulfilling a strategic communication and command role for the Navy’s Strategic Communications Wing 1, the E-6B Mercury cockpit inherited from the Boeing 707-320B offered only marginal improvements over its E-3 Sentry ersatz. In the E-6B case, the $123 million flight deck upgrade program saw 6 new flat-panel modern Multi-Function Displays replace more than 100 analog cockpit instruments.
A more recent cockpit upgrade program for the 4 Boeing E4-B National Airborne Operations Center delivered in 1973 to the US Air Force 55th Wing was announced June 7th 2011. Again 737NG avionics systems will be fitted to that 747-200-based platform. Under the program, the E-4B aircraft will integrate new core CNS/ATM (Communication Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management) systems to 737NG-inspired Multi-Function Displays glass deck management interface.
In all, upgrades of legacy 70’s or 80’s Boeing military aircraft cockpits have continuously relied on open architecture avionics program derived from already successful implementations on passenger Boeing 737NG and 777 aircraft. In each case aging and/or out-of-production flight systems have compounded limited operational capabilities to poor maintainability due to the growing difficulties of sourcing replacement parts.
Another successful case saw Off-The-Shelf components sourced from Smiths Industries used to upgrade 59 USAF KC-10 Tanker. That retrofit showcased a combination of PowerPC-based CPU architecture solution with a VMEBus controller in a program began in 2002. This approach has permitted the potent 1970’s DC-10-based platform to acquire more operational flexibility.
The United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense, and the United Kingdom Royal Air Force took delivery of respectively, their 5th and 8th Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft on May 22nd and May 18th 2012. For the UAE air arm, the new aircraft is joining four other C-17 aircraft delivered last year which are based in Abu Dhabi. Boeing also expects to deliver the last of six C-17s ordered by the UAE in 2010 during the current year.
For the UK Royal Air Force which began operating the type in May of 2001, the induction of an 8th aircraft with the 99 Squadron at Brize, Norton was highly anticipated. During its ten plus years operating the type, the RAF has continuously demonstrated the growing operational demands for the capabilities that the C-17 aircraft provides. The 74,000 accumulated flight hours shared among 7 aircraft in its fleet are reportedly exceeding projected utilization rates by 15% according to Boeing.
With the 216 aircraft delivered to the US Air Force and Air National Guard (223 orders total), the 5 aircraft delivered to the Royal Australia Air Force, the 2 aircraft in service with Qatar (2 may be ordered as options) along with another 4 with Canada’s Royal Air Force, Boeing has now delivered a total of 243 aircraft. Also recognizing the type’s 164,900 lbs payload capabilities at ranges of 2,400 nm (5,600 nm range with 102 paratroopers equivalent to 40,000 lbs payload), the Indian Air Force became the latest customer for the type when ordering 10 aircraft in 2011. Once delivered in 2013 and 2014, the IAF C-17s will provide comparatively superior capabilities over the 24 Ilyushin Il-76 currently in service.
Germany’s main carrier Lufthansa took delivery of the first evr 747-8 Intercontinental to enter passenger service. The aircraft official hand over to Deutsche Lufthansa AG took place on April 25th 2012. The ceremony was attended notably by Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Christoph Franz, chairman of the Executive Board and chief executive officer of Deutsche Lufthansa AG. The ferry flight to Germany saw the new aircraft registered as D-ABYA depart Everett airfield on May 1st with about 30 passengers and crews on board including company’s senior executives. The arrival event in Germany was marked by the aircraft conducting a touch and go maneuver at the Hamburg airport Lufthansa’s maintenance base before flying along to the carrier’s Frankfurt main staging base. The aircraft is scheduled to officially enter service on the Frankfurt-Washington Dulles route on June 1st 2012.
The New Fully Flat Business Class Seat
With the new business class seat that will debut on the 747-8I, Lufthansa finally ends years of compromise with a less competitive product for business travelers. The old seat which was introduced in 2004 lacked the fully flat bed feature that global carriers need to grow their business travelers market share. The result of years of study that included a 8 week trial period with passengers flying the Frankfurt-New York route in 2010, the new business class seat will leverage on the 747-8I cabin being 30% quieter than that of the 747-400 it replaces. As well the new curved interior concept will provide a more spacious and more modern experience.
Characteristically the new business seats are aligned in a V-shape layout. Adjacent seats join at the feet but are more widely separated at the shoulder area, hence providing greater separation between passengers. It is a 1.98m (6’6”) long seat supported by a 15” wide LCD screen which espouses the ergonomic and practicality advantages afforded by a protective shell as seen in Air France new business class seat.
The new Flagship (in front of the A380).
Despite its 5.6m length advantage over the 747-400, the new Lufthansa Jumbo Jet seating capacity has been confined to 362 passengers: 8 in First Class, 92 in Business Class and 262 in Economy Class. In comparison to the 8 First; 80 Business; 234 Economy (322 total) seats and 16 First; 52 Business; 310 Economy (378 total) seats on the two current configurations available on the old 747-400, the relatively lower seat density on the new aircraft shows Lufthansa emphasis on passenger comfort. This notion is supported by the previuosly mentioned 30% reduction in noise against he 747-400 and the prevalence of the A380 for high density shuttle service. Lufthansa’s largest aircraft, the Airbus A380 leverages on its double decks to embark 526 passengers in a configuration that accommodates 8 Flat Bed seats in First Class, 98 old seats in Business Class and 420 seats in Economy Class. The current absence of the new Business class seat aboard the A380 seemingly elevates the 747-8I to flagship status. A very favorable delivery schedule will allow Lufthansa to fly up to 15 new Boeing 747-8I by 2015, with the 5 remaining aircraft on order coming later (in addition to which 20 options may be exercised).
The retirement of some of the oldest 747-400 in the fleet, specifically the 15 aircraft deployed for service between 1989 and 1992 now appears likely.
With the 15% reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (per passenger) made possible by the GEnx-2B67 engines, Lufthansa is entering a new realm of improved operating economics initially on routes from Frankfurt to Washington D. C, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chicago and Los Angeles.