The Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post, with the project name “Nightwatch”, is a strategic command and control military aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). The E-4 series was specially modified from the Boeing 747-200B. The E-4 serves as a survivable mobile command post for the National Command Authority, namely the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and successors. The four E-4Bs are operated by the 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron of the 55th Wing located at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska. An E-4B is denoted a “National Airborne Operations Center” when in action, it is to be a command platform in the event of nuclear war.
The E-4B is designed to survive an EMP with systems intact and has state-of-the-art direct fire countermeasures. Although many older aircraft have been upgraded with glass cockpits, the E-4B still uses traditional analog flight instruments, as they are less susceptible to damage from an EMP blast.[
The E-4B is capable of operating with a crew up to 112 people including flight and mission personnel, the largest crew of any aircraft in US Air Force history. With in-flight aerial refueling it is capable of remaining airborne for a considerable period (limited only by consumption of the engines’ lubricants and food supplies). In a test flight for endurance, the aircraft remained airborne and fully operational for 35.4 hours, however it was designed to remain airborne for a full week in the event of an emergency. It takes two fully loaded KC-135 tankers to fully refuel an E-4B. The E-4B has three operational decks: upper, middle, and lower.
In January 2006, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced a plan to retire the entire E-4B fleet starting in 2009. This was reduced to retiring one of the aircraft in February 2007. The next Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates reversed this decision in May 2007. This is due to the unique capabilities of the E-4B, which cannot be duplicated by any other single aircraft in Air Force service, and the cancellation in 2007 of the E-10 MC2A, which was considered as a successor to the EC-135 and E-8 aircraft, and could also perform many of the same tasks of the E-4B. As of the 2015 federal budget there were no plans for retiring the E-4B. The E-4B airframe has a usable life of 115K hours and 30K cycles, which would be reached in 2039; the maintenance limiting point would occur some time in the 2020s.
All four produced are operated by the U.S. Air Force, and are assigned to the 1st Airborne Command Control Squadron (1ACCS) of the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Maintenance and crews are provided by Air Combat Command. Operations are coordinated by the United States Strategic Command.
When the President travels outside of North America using a VC-25A as Air Force One, an E-4B will deploy to a second airport in the vicinity of the President’s destination, to be readily available in the event of a world crisis or an emergency that renders the VC-25A unusable. When the President visits Honolulu, Hawaii, an E-4B has often been stationed 200 miles away at Hilo International Airport on Hawaii Island.
Battle Staff Cabin
A right front view of an E-4 advanced airborne command post (AABNCP) on the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) simulator for testing.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), also sometimes called a transient electromagnetic disturbance, is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. Such a pulse’s origination may be a natural occurrence or man-made and can occur as a radiated, electric or magnetic field or a conducted electric current, depending on the source.
EMP interference is generally disruptive or damaging to electronic equipment, and at higher energy levels a powerful EMP event such as a lightning strike can damage physical objects such as buildings and aircraft structures. The management of EMP effects is an important branch of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) engineering.
Weapons have been developed to create the damaging effects of high-energy EMP. These are typically divided into nuclear and non-nuclear devices. Such weapons, both real and fictional, have become known to the public by means of popular culture.