01/31/2012. In the early 1970s, Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Bitteswell, Warwickshire, undertook the conversion of twelve Shackleton MR.Mk.2s (Maritime Reconnaissance) for service as airborne early warning aircraft. The first of these (s/n WL745) flew for the first time on September 30, 1971, and delivery of all 12 was completed during 1972.
The modified Shackletons, designated AEW.Mk 2, initially supplemented the Fairey Gannet AEW. Mk.3s of the RN until completion of the run-down of the latter's aircraft carrier force, after which the Shackletons took over the complete responsibility for AEW support of maritime surface forces and enhancement of low-level radar defense of the UK. Deliveries were made to No. 8 Squadron of the RAF, which formed at Kinloss, Scotland, in the first weeks of 1972 and later transferred to Lossiemouth as its operational base.
The AEW modification included revision of the existing weapons bay, deletion of the retractable "dustbin" radome installed previously aft of this bay, and installation just forward of the weapons bay of a large, fixed "guppy" type radome housing APS-20 search radar of the kind fitted to the Gannet AEW.Mk.3. Other external changes from the standard Shackleton MR.2 included a variety of aerials, antennae and equipment fairings along the top of the fuselage, beneath the weapons bay doors, and around the area occupied formerly by the retractable radome.
Built as an MR.Mk.2, the pictured aircraft first flew on June 23, 1953, seven weeks later, August 7, the aircraft was delivered to the RAF. In 1971/1972 the aircraft was converted to an AEW.Mk 2 and delivered to RAF No. 8 Squadron (as indicated by the '8' on the fuselage). Upon retirement in the 1990s the aircraft was stored and subsequently came on the US register as N790WL on April 7, 2000.
After seven years of flying at air shows the aircraft was finally retired in 2007. Facts that contributed to its retirement were the high operating costs and the lack of currently qualified pilots. It became the last AEW.Mk.2 flown, when it made its last flight to the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson Arizona, on December 16, 2007, where it is on display. The last of the Shackleton family to fly was the SAAF MR.Mk.3 (s/n 1722) that made its last flight (for basically the same reasons) three months later, March 29, 2008.