Joint-STARS

 

What is Joint-STARS and what has it to do with Qantas Boeing 707s you might ask. Joint-STARS is one of those acronyms which the US military are so good at inventing. It has nothing to do with "Star Wars", the movie or "Star Wars" the defence system, although it does involve advanced technology. Joint-STARS (which was originally JSTARS) stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. Its purely military application is as an air-to-ground surveillance system designed to locate, classify and track multiple ground targets in all weather conditions. The "Joint" part of the acronym reflects the fact that the program was intended to fulfil the needs of both the US Army and Air Force.

As originally conceived, the project was intended to utilise new-build Boeing 707 airframes which were still being produced as the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft. Unfortunately, budgetary constraints resulted in the choice of decidedly second-hand, high time Boeing 707-320 series airliners which were obtained from multiple sources and designated as E-8. These aeroplanes were completely rebuilt by the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman at facilities in Melbourne, Florida and Lake Charles, Louisiana as well as other sub-contractors. The most notable external feature of the Joint-STARS aeroplane is a phased array radar antenna located in a 12 metre long "canoe" radome mounted under the forward fuselage offset to starboard.

Remarkably, of an estimated 22 B707 airframes involved in the E-8 program, the first and third prototypes were former Qantas aeroplanes as were the first five production examples! Why so many former Qantas aeroplanes were chosen is unknown, although it is tempting to suspect that Qantas maintenance standards made them attractive candidates. In reality, all eight aeroplanes had passed through the hands of multiple owners since leaving Qantas service, so their condition could be expected to have deteriorated with the passage of time and the number of owners. However, it is probably reasonable to say that Qantas maintenance standards at least gave them a "head start". Some aircraft which joined the program later came from one-owner sources such as the Canadian Armed Forces (4) and the Luftwaffe (1) although others were multiple owner examples which were delivered originally to airlines such as Pan Am (1), Air France (1), Alia (1), Wardair (1), World (1) and American Airlines (3).

Although the program was still in its development stages, two Joint-STARS aircraft (one being the former VH-EAF) were used with some success in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. After further test and evaluation flying, an E-8A and an E-8C were deployed to Bosnia in December 1995 to March 1996.

Test and evaluation flying highlighted several shortcomings which were mostly related to the choice of platform (i.e. blame the aeroplane!) It was reported that limited engine power made it difficult to reach the aircraft's normal operating altitude of 36,000 feet, much less the 42,000 feet required by the Joint-STARS mission. It was also found that the aircraft needed a runway length of 11,000 feet when taking-off with a fuel load of 140,000 pounds, whereas the standard NATO runway length was 8,000 feet. These shortcomings resulted in a reduction of aircraft converted from an original concept for as many as 35 to the final production run of 13 aircraft (not including the 3 development aircraft).

As early as 1992, it was being suggested that the system should be installed in a more modern airframe such as the Boeing 767-200ER. Nevertheless, the E-8s have continued in service, having been used more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2002, funding was approved for a 17th production aircraft.

The E-8 was originally operated by the 93rd Air Control Wing based at Robbins AFB in Georgia. In 2002 the unit became the 116th Air Control Wing with personnel drawn from active duty and the Air National Guard although still based at Robbins.

On 17 December 2008, the former VH-EAA was rolled out at Northrop Grumman's Melbourne, Florida facility after fitment of Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines. After a period of test flying it is expected that the other aircraft will be similarly modified.

 

USAF
TYPE
BOEING
MSN
ORIG ID
OWNER
REMARKS
-
-
707-338C
19628
VH-EAH
Qantas
Registered N780JS to Boeing Military or Northrop Grumman but not accepted into the Joint-STARS program. Became TF-IUD and 5A-DTF. At last report was derelict at Tripoli. Registration N780JS was finally cancelled on 05OCT08. (See Issue #5)
86-0416
E-8A
707-338C
19626
VH-EAF
Qantas
FSD-1/T-1 Prototype ex N770JS
Initially EC-18C
Delivered AUG87
First Flown 22DEC88
European trials FEB-MAR90
Desert Storm 91
86-0417
E-8A
TE-8A
707-323C
19574
N8411
American
FSD-2/T-2 Prototype
Initially EC-18C
The registration N780JS has been associated with this aircraft but this was either not taken up or is an error.
Delivered NOV88
First Flown 31AUG89
European trials SEP90
Desert Storm 91
Broken up by Northrop Grumman at Melbourne FL.
88-0322 YE-8B E-6A/YE-8B
24503
- First Flown 12JUN90
Sold to Royal Saudi Air Force as 1902 (ex N707UM)
90-0175
E-8C
TE-8C
707-338C
19621
VH-EAA
Qantas
FSD-3/T-3 N526SJ
Delivered MAR94
Test bed owned by Northrop Grumman
Operation Joint Endeavour, Bosnia OCT96
Named "Eye in the Sky"
Fitted with P&W JT8D-219 engines and test flown at Melbourne, Florida on 21DEC08 (Source USAF press release)
92-3289
E-8C
707-338C
19622
VH-EAB
Qantas
P-1 ex N4131G
Delivered 11JUN96
Operation Joint Endeavour, Bosnia OCT96
Named "Belle of Middle Georgia"
92-3290
E-8C
707-338C
19295
VH-EBV
Qantas
P-2 ex N4115J
Delivered 13DEC96
Operation Joint Endeavour, Bosnia DEC96
93-0597
E-8C
707-338C
19294
VH-EBU
Qantas
P-3 ex G-EOCO. ex USAF 67-30053
Departed AMARC for Lake Charles 17JUN93
Delivered 98
Suffered a fuel tank over-pressurisation on 13MAR09 and is unlikely to fly again because of internal wing damage.
93-1097
E-8C
707-338C
19296
VH-EBW
Qantas
P-4 ex N6546L
Delivered 98
Operation Enduring Freedom NOV01
94-0284
E-8C
707-338C
19293
VH-EBT
Qantas
P-5 ex N2178F
Delivered 99
Operation Enduring Freedom NOV01
Named "Problem Child"
94-0285
E-8C
707-373C
19442
N370WA
World
P-6 ex N760FW ex USAF 67-30054
Departed AMARC for Lake Charles 17JUN93
Delivered 99
Named "Radar Love"
95-0122
E-8C
707-3D3C
20495
JY-ADP
Alia
P-7 ex USAF 71-1841
Delivered 00
95-0121
E-8C
707-321C
20016
N870PA
Pan Am
P-8 ex N770FW, USAF 68-11174
Delivered 00
96-0042
E-8C
707-347C
20319
13705
C.A.F.
P-9
Delivered 30APR91
24SEP05 Extensively damaged by Hurricane Rita at the Northrop Grumman facility at Lake Charles Chennault, LA. (AL 467/7)
Repaired and returned to service.
96-0043
E-8C
707-347C
20316
13702
C.A.F.
P-10 ex EL-AKT
97-0100
E-8C
707-355C
19986
F-BJCM
Air France
P-11 ex N707MB
Delivered 06AUG01
97-0200 E-8C 707-347C
20317
13703
C.A.F.
P-12
Delivered 27NOV01
97-0201
E-8C
707-347C
20318
13704
C.A.F.
P-13
Delivered 25APR02
99-0006
E-8C
707-307C
19998
10+02
Luftwaffe
P-14 ex USAF 68-11072
Delivered 19AUG02
00-2000 E-8C 707-396C
20043
CF-ZYP
Wardair
P-15 ex USAF C-137C 85-6973
Delivered 25FEB03
01-2005 E-8C 707-323C
19382
N7567A
American A/L
P-16
Delivered 01MAR04
Named "Jay Pig"
02-9111 E-8C 707-323C
19581
N8401
American A/L
P-17 ex USAF E-18B 81-0896
Delivered 22MAR05 (Source: Northrop Grumman press release)

 

VH-EAF
86-0416

VH-EAA
90-0175

VH-EAA
90-0175

VH-EBV
92-3290

VH-EBV
92-3290

VH-EBT
94-0284

VH-EBT
94-0284

 


This page was developed for the Qantas Foundation Memorial by Ron Cuskelly


Sources

 

Issue
Date
Remarks
6
08SEP12
Added the name "Belle of Middle Georgia" for 92-3289.
5
13APR11
Some sources state that MSN 19628 (VH-EAH) was scrapped by Northrop Grumman at Melbourne, Florida as N780JS. Photographic evidence that the aircraft is still in Libya as 5A-DTF suggests that the aircraft was not accepted for the Joint-STARS program but instead became TF-IUD and 5A-DTF. Thanks to Jim Tomlinson for pointing out the anomaly.
4
25OCT10
Major update to reflect the full production of 17 aircraft. Additional information drawn from http://www.targetlock.org.uk/e-8/production.html
3
22OCT10
Added one image of the former VH-EBV and two images of the former VH-EBT thanks to Jim and Jacob Forst.
2
24OCT05
Added a reference to 96-0042 (a non-Qantas aircraft) being damaged by Hurricane Rita.
1
30MAR05
Original issue