A U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury “doomsday” aircraft suffered bird strike while performing a touch-and-go maneuver at Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS Pax River) in Maryland on Oct. 2.
During the touch-and-go maneuver, the aircraft is supposed to land and then take off again without coming to a full stop. While performing the maneuver, the E-6B was struck by a wayward bird that took out one of the plane’s four engines, which led to a temporary grounding of the aircraft.
A team of people was on board conducting a systems test during the incident but no one was injured, according to Tim Boulay, Communications Director for the Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD).
The Navy’s Naval Safety Center (NSC) classified the incident as a “class A” mishap, meaning the event caused either more than $2 million in damages or death/permanent disability. So it is clear the $141.7 million aircraft suffered damages worth at least $2 million.
The damaged engine had been replaced and the aircraft was back in service as of Thursday, Boulay added.
The incident marked the second Class-A mishap involving E-6B Mercury this year. In February, an E-6B sustained damages when it clipped the hangar structure while being moved at the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
The Boeing E-6 Mercury (formerly called E-6 Hermes) is a strategic airborne command post and communications relay aircraft, based on the Boeing 707-320 airliner, operated by the U.S. Navy.
The aircraft provides survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications between the National Command Authority (NCA) and U.S. strategic and non-strategic forces. The strategic forces include the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) armed with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the Air Force’s strategic bombers armed with nuclear gravity bombs and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The original E-6A manufactured by Boeing’s defense division entered service with the Navy in July 1989, replacing the EC-130Q Hercules TACAMO (“Take Charge and Move Out”) aircraft. TACAMO links the NCA with naval ballistic missile forces during times of crisis. For this mission, the aircraft carries a very low-frequency communication system with dual trailing wire antennas.
The E-6 aircraft, modified to the E-6B standard, replaced Air Force’s EC-135C Looking Glass platforms in the Airborne Command Post (ABNCP) role, providing command and control of U.S. nuclear forces should ground-based control become inoperable. E-6B has the ability to remotely launch U.S. land-based ICBMs using the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS). With the assumption of the ABNCP mission, a U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) battle staff now flies with the TACAMO crew.
The E-6 fleet consists of 16 aircraft and is based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The fleet is operated by Navy’s Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 3 (VQ-3), VQ-4, and VQ-7.