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A couple of months ago I was near the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, when I saw 3 or 4 planes flying in a tight circular pattern. The planes were on the larger side, prop driven and had large radar dishes mounted to the top of the fuselage. Based on that, I'm guessing they were E-2 Hawkeyes of some variant. I don't remember the livery, unfortunately.

The planes were flying roughly 200ft above ground level. They were all on the same rough flight path, and were circling. The circle was probably 0.5 to 1 miles in diameter. The flight was right over the eastern edge of the base. I didn't see the planes take off or land, but in the time I was watching, they probably flew 4 revolutions.

At the time I was guessing that the planes were flying like this because they were doing some sort of weather detection, but I was wondering if any of you could provide me with a more definite answer. So my question is:

What was the purpose of having those planes circle the area?

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  • $\begingroup$ "The circle was probably 0.25 to 0.5 miles in diameter." That seems kind of tight. I am based at small airport with a 2770 foot runway, so a little over a half mile. In my small 4 seater prop plane, it'd be tough to circle within the length of the runway. A much larger twin turboprop would have an even harder time, and would not be in a position to land from there if there were a problem. This page fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/e-2.htm has performance info. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jun 26 '18 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads You're probably right. I was driving at the time, so I could have very easily misjudged the distance. $\endgroup$ – A Very Large Bear Jun 26 '18 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ Your estimate of altitude is likely way off. The E-2 touch and go pattern altitude is not 200'. Carrier landing pattern altitude is 500' per the NATOPS manual. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 26 '18 at 13:24
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They were most probably training touch-and-go passes. USN conducts carrier landing practice at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility for E-2 Hawkeyes and C-2 Greyhounds.

As Lt. Commander Mike Ferrara, an operations officer with the Navy's Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 120 (VAW-120) explains in this article:

These two aircraft are very difficult aircraft to fly — that's why, when we're up here, you'll probably see us going around for three hours at a time, take a break, and go for three more hours ...

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