Two E-2C Hawkeyes passed through RAF Brize Norton on June 21 and 22, bound for a new home in Mexico. But so far the journey has probably been more than they bargained for, as Alan Warnes reports.
AS YOU read these pages, the Mexican Navy should, hopefully, have taken delivery of two Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes. In doing so, it will have completed an undertaking that started two years ago when the Mexican Government, embarking upon a modernisation programme for the Navy acquired three E-2C Daya (Kites) from the Israel Defence Force/Air Force (IDF/AF).
As part of a government to government deal reputedly worth some $US 18 million, Israel Aircraft Industries Bedek, based at Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion Airport, has returned the three aircraft to service, and trained 39 Mexican Navy personnel over a period of some seven months. Four Dayas (the Hebrew name given to the Hawkeyes) entered service with the Hawkeye Sqn (192 Sqn) in 1978, and although a couple were believed to have been upgraded with in-flight refuelling probes in 1992-3, they were retired in 1994. The IDF/AF citing a lack of overland airborne early warning (AEW) capability for their premature withdrawal. Following this decision, three of the four were placed in store at Hatzerim (serialled 941, 944, 946), while the other (942) served as an exhibit in the excellent co-located Israel Air Force museum. In March 2003, 941, 942 and 946 were transported to Ben Gurion where IAI Bedek set about returning them to service, and 944 was taken from store and transferred to the museum.
The three aircraft will be based at Vera Cruz, in south-east Mexico, where the main Mexican Navy operating base is sited. These AEW aircraft are part of a five-year US$ 1.11 billion modernisation plan which will transform the Mexican Navy into an effective anti-terrorist and anti-drug service in the area of the Gulf of Mexico. They will join a surveillance system recently bolstered by the delivery of two Mexican Air Force EMB-145MPS.
Such lengthy delivery flights, to the other side of the world can be tricky affairs, but when they involve two 1970s-era aircraft, two turboprop engines and a range of just over 1,000 miles (1,500km) it becomes clear that these aircraft were bound to prove a difficult proposition. On board were two pilots and two engineers from IAI Bedek, along with two pilots and two engineers from the Mexican Navy.
The original plan was for two aircraft to have left Ben Gurion on June 17 for Brindisi, stopping there overnight, finishing on June 18 at RAF Mildenhall, UK. They would leave Mildenhall on June 19 and then route to Keflavik, Iceland. However, no-one involved in the project had realised that RAF Mildenhall had been shut for runway repairs since March 1 this year. With RAF Lakenheath shut that weekend, an alternative was sought. A flight-plan was submitted routing through RAF Brize Norton on Friday, June 18 and departing next day, but after failing to gain diplomatic clearance it was scrubbed and re-submitted for Monday, June 21.
In the end, the two Hawkeyes left Ben Gurion on June 20, headed to Brindisi in south-east Italy and stopped overnight there. They left on June 21, but en route AMP-100 developed air-conditioning problems and diverted to Venice, while AMP-101 continued on to Liege, Belgium. After some attention at Venice, AMP-100 left for Brize Norton, as did AMP-101, and the pair eventually arrived there in the late afternoon of June 21. Both aircraft were parked on its ramp all night and were given a pre-flight check the next morning, which found a problem with a bracket inside AMP-100 that needed fixing. The resident SERCO workshop managed to build a new bracket, as a temporary fix for one flight only, and eventually the pair got away on the afternoon of June 22. However, an hour or so into the flight AMP-101 suffered a cracked windscreen and diverted back to Brize Norton. Meanwhile, AMP-100 was diverting to Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides, with an engine problem, which will have to be rectified before its sea-crossing to Iceland. Their next port of call was scheduled as Keflavik (Iceland), then Greenland, Canada, and the USA before eventually touching down at Vera Cruz. We wish the eight crewmembers well!