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Long Time Coming: The program to replace engines on the Air Force's fleet of E-8C Joint STARS surveillance aircraft is on track toward first flight with the test aircraft on Dec. 17, according to officials at the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, Mass. It's a program that has been years in the making, but Col. Jim Lovell, commander of ESC's 751st Electronic Systems Group, says it will "yield huge benefits to the warfighter" through increased reliability and fuel efficiency that will keep the aircraft overhead watching enemy forces. Maj. Ryan Knapp, re-engining program manager with the 633rd Electronic Systems Squadron at Hanscom, said the final stages are underway to install the entire propulsion pod system, employing the new Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines, on the test aircraft at prime contractor Northrop Grumman's Melbourne, Fla., facility. The new engines will provide the E-8s with the flexibility to use shorter runways and increase fuel efficiency by about 17 percent, enabling the Joint STARS to limit refuelings that take them off-station. "Every time that happens [a refueling break], the bad guys can potentially by moving around on the ground without someone watching them, and then the Joint STARS has to come back and lock on," explained Rainy McIntosh with the 633rd ELSS. With the new engines, he said, "Those types of breaks in situational awareness are not going to happen." (Hanscom report by Monica Morales)