Northrop Grumman has flown the first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye equipped for in-flight refueling, the company announces on 16 December.

The flight comes three years after US Navy awarded Northrop a $226 million contract to engineer, manufacture and develop the aerial refueling system the carrier-based airborne early warning and control fleet.

“This takes the E-2D to another level, which will bring more combat persistence to the US and our allies,” says Jane Bishop, Northrop’s vice-president for C-2/E-2 programmes, in a statement.

The E-2D operates for up to 5h after taking off from a carrier without the in-flight refueling system.

By contrast, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force plans to operate the E-2D from land bases, allowing the fleet to take-off with a heavier load of fuel than from a carrier and stay airborne for up to 8h.

Three aircraft will be modified for testing to be complete in 2018, Northrop says, with production of refueling-capable E-2Ds and retrofits beginning later that year.

The E-2D features the UHF-band Lockheed Martin APY-9, which combines an electronic scanning aperture that mechanically rotates.