AWACS reservists team up with E-3 program managers
By Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer, 513th Air Control Group
/ Published July 28, 2015
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- For the first time in the history of the E-3 Sentry, reservists from the 513th Air Control Group invited E-3 program managers from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., on board to showcase the Block 40/45 upgrade during a training mission on July 19.
The program managers, who are responsible for upgrades and development of the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, got a first-hand look at the product of their work during the more than five-hour mission.
"It's amazing how we all work on the same system, either on the program management side procuring the aircraft or on the operator side, we all work with the AWACS system, but we speak a different language," said Lt. Col. Christopher Williams, an E-3 Block 40/45 program manager from Hanscom AFB. "This was a great opportunity for us to come together and speak the same language."
The team from Hanscom spoke with each aircrew member during the flight, learning how the upgrade has affected each crew position in day-to-day operations. Maj. Phil Schredl, an air weapons officer assigned to the 513th Operations Support Squadron, spent the majority of the mission working directly with the program managers.
"The overall interaction was outstanding," Schredl said. "They came in with several questions and concepts that they wanted to see how they could adjust to make life easier for us."
The team didn't only get to look over the reservists' shoulders, but were able to sit down at the consoles and use the software during the flight.
"I think it was really rewarding for them to use the consoles and see first-hand the product that they've worked so hard on," Schredl said.
Block 40/45, the largest upgrade to date for the E-3 Sentry, also requires upgrade training for all operations and most maintenance Airmen in the 513th.
Multi-day trips away from the reservists' home station like the one to Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., helps each aircrew member retain the certification training better, said Lt. Col. Elaine Boyd, a mission crew commander assigned to the 513th OSS.
"With some crews back at home, they'll do one training sortie, then a week or two later they'll get the second training sortie," Boyd said. "There's definitely a learning fallback doing it that way. By doing it four days in a row, there's less of a step back in learning and the overall retention increases."
Aircrew members require consistent training flights on the new system to maintain currency. Until the entire E-3 fleet is upgraded to Block 40/45 in 2020, many reservists will have to maintain currency on the old and new systems.
"[Block] 40/45 is a huge upgrade," Boyd said. "I like to compare it between the old Nintendo game styles and an Xbox that the kids have now. It's a huge upgrade for us."
Observing Airmen from the 513th in action with Block 40/45 on a training mission gave the program managers a better perspective, E-3 program management engineer Michael Diaz said.
"Seeing these guys in person really puts urgency at the forefront of what we do," Diaz said. "What I'm going to bring back to the office is the necessity to do things more quickly. I'm not saying that we don't try our best already, but these guys need solutions and they need them to work."
Diaz, along with the other program managers, said they look forward to working with the Airmen who operate the aircraft again in the future.
"The biggest takeaway for me is that we need to be in constant contact with the operators and make sure that more folks from the program office get to meet and talk with the operators," he said. "An experience like this is really eye opening. Part of my goal today was to make contacts and stay in contact in the future, so I think this will be something we'll definitely do again."