The Info List - RC-135

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The BOEING RC-135 is a family of large reconnaissance aircraft built by Boeing
and modified by a number of companies, including General Dynamics , Lockheed , LTV , E-Systems , and L3 Technologies , and used by the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
and Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
to support theater and national level intelligence consumers with near real-time on-scene collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities. Based on the C-135 Stratolifter airframe, various types of RC-135s have been in service since 1961. Unlike the C-135 and KC-135 which are recognized by Boeing
as the Model 717 , the RC-135 is internally designated as the MODEL 739 by the company. Many variants have been modified numerous times, resulting in a large variety of designations, configurations, and program names.


* 1 Design and development * 2 Operational history

* 3 Variants

* 3.1 KC-135A Reconnaissance Platforms * 3.2 KC-135R Rivet Stand / Rivet Quick * 3.3 C-135T Cobra Jaw * 3.4 RC-135A * 3.5 RC-135B * 3.6 RC-135C Big Team * 3.7 RC-135D Office Boy / Rivet Brass * 3.8 RC-135E Lisa Ann / Rivet Amber * 3.9 RC-135M Rivet Card * 3.10 RC-135S Nancy Rae / Wanda Belle / Rivet Ball * 3.11 RC-135S Cobra Ball * 3.12 RC-135T Rivet Dandy * 3.13 RC-135U Combat Sent * 3.14 RC-135V/W Rivet Joint * 3.15 RC-135X Cobra Eye * 3.16 RC-135W Rivet Joint (Project Airseeker) * 3.17 TC-135

* 4 Operators * 5 Accidents and incidents * 6 Specifications (RC-135) * 7 See also * 8 References * 9 External links


The first RC-135 variant, the RC-135A, was ordered in 1962 by the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
to replace the Boeing
RB-50 Superfortress . Originally nine were ordered but this was later reduced to four. Boeing
allocated the variant the designation Boeing
739-700 but they were modified variant of the KC-135A then in production. They used the same Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines as the tanker variant, but carried cameras in a bay just aft of the nose wheel bay where the forward fuel tank was normally located. They had no refueling system fitted and they were to be used for photographic and surveying tasks.

The next variant ordered was the RC-135B to be used as an electronic intelligence aircraft to replace the Boeing
RB-47H Stratojet on ELINT duties. Unlike the earlier variants, the RC-135Bs were fitted with Pratt a fourth, serial no. 58-0126, was converted in 1969 to replace 1465 which had crashed in 1967. Externally the aircraft had varied configurations throughout their careers, but generally they were distinguished by five "towel bar" antennas along the spine of the upper fuselage and a radome below the forward fuselage. The first three aircraft retained the standard tanker nose radome, while 58-0126 was fitted with the 'hog nose' radome commonly associated with an RC-135. A trapeze-like structure in place of the refueling boom which was used to trail an aerodynamic shape housing a specialized receiver array (colloquially known as a "blivet") on a wire was installed. This was reported to be used for "Briar Patch" and "Combat Lion" missions. There were four small optically flat windows on each side of the forward fuselage. On some missions a small wing-like structure housing sensors was fitted to each side of the forward fuselage, with a diagonal brace below it. With the loss of 59-1465, KC-135A 58-0126 was modified to this standard under the RIVET QUICK operational name. All four aircraft have now been lost or converted to KC-135R tanker configuration. They are among the few KC-135 tankers equipped with an aerial refueling receptacle above the cockpit, left over from their service as intelligence gathering platforms.


C-135R 55-3121 was modified in 1969 by Lockheed Air Services to the unique KC-135T configuration under the Cobra Jaw program name. Externally distinguished by the 'hog nose' radome, the aircraft also featured spinning "fang" receiver antennas below the nose radome, a large blade antenna above the forward fuselage, a single 'towel bar' antenna on the spine, teardrop antennas forward of the horizontal stabilizers on each side, and the trapeze-like structure in place of the refueling boom. The aircraft briefly carried nose art consisting of the Ford Cobra Jet cartoon cobra. It was later modified into an RC-135T Rivet Dandy.


Four RC-135As (63-8058 through 8061) were photo mapping platforms utilized briefly by the Air Photographic "> Two Cobra Ball aircraft on the flightline at Offutt Air Force Base , Nebraska
in 2001.

The RC-135S COBRA BALL is a measurement and signature intelligence MASINT collector equipped with special electro-optical instruments designed to observe ballistic missile flights at long range. The Cobra Ball monitors missile-associated signals and tracks missiles during boost and re-entry phases to provide reconnaissance for treaty verification and theater ballistic missile proliferation. The aircraft are extensively modified C-135Bs. The right wing and engines are traditionally painted black to reduce sun glare for tracking cameras.

There are three aircraft in service and they are part of the 55th Wing , 45th Reconnaissance Squadron
45th Reconnaissance Squadron
based at Offutt Air Force Base , Nebraska. Cobra Ball aircraft were originally assigned to Shemya and used to observe ballistic missile tests on the Kamchatka peninsula
Kamchatka peninsula
in conjunction with Cobra Dane and Cobra Judy . Two aircraft were converted for Cobra Ball in 1969 and following the loss of an aircraft in 1981 another aircraft was converted in 1983. The sole RC-135X was also converted into an RC-135S in 1995 to supplement the other aircraft.


KC-135T 55-3121 was modified to RC-135T Rivet Dandy configuration in 1971. It was used to supplement the RC-135C/D/M fleet, then in short supply due to ongoing upgrades requiring airframes to be out of service. It operated under the Burning Candy operational order. In 1973 the aircraft's SIGINT gear was removed and transferred to KC-135E 58-0126, resulting in 55-3121 assuming the role of trainer, a role which it fulfilled for the remainder of its operational existence. Externally the aircraft retained the 'hog nose' radome and some other external modifications, but the aerial refueling boom and trapeze below the tail were removed, and it had no operational reconnaissance role. In this configuration it operated variously with the 376th Strategic Wing at Kadena AB , Okinawa, the 305th AREFW at Grissom AFB , Indiana, and the 6th Strategic Wing at Eielson AFB , Alaska. In 1982 the aircraft was modified with Pratt "> Combat Sent aircraft in flight with its unique nose cone, wingtips, and tail

The RC-135U Combat Sent is designed to collect technical intelligence on adversary radar emitter systems. Combat Sent data is collected to develop new or upgraded radar warning receivers , radar jammers , decoys, anti-radiation missiles , and training simulators.

Distinctly identified by the antennae arrays on the fuselage chin, tailcone, and wing tips, three RC-135C aircraft were converted to RC-135U (63-9792, 64-14847, "> RC-135 Rivet Joint

The RC-135V/W is the USAF's standard airborne SIGINT platform. Missions flown by the RC-135s are designated either Burning Wind or Misty Wind . Its sensor suite allows the mission crew to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum . The mission crew can then forward gathered information in a variety of formats to a wide range of consumers via Rivet Joint's extensive communications suite. The crew consists of the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators, and airborne systems maintenance personnel. All Rivet Joint airframe and mission systems modifications are performed by L-3 Communications
L-3 Communications
in Greenville, Texas , under the oversight of the Air Force Materiel Command .

All RC-135s are assigned to Air Combat Command. The RC-135 is permanently based at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and operated by the 55th Wing, using various forward deployment locations worldwide.

Under the "BIG SAFARI" program name, RC-135Vs were upgraded from the RC-135C "Big Team" configuration. RC-135Ws were originally delivered as C-135B transports, and most were modified from RC-135Ms. This is the only difference between the V and W variants; both carry the same mission equipment. For many years, the RC-135V/W could be identified by the four large disc-capped MUCELS antennas forward, four somewhat smaller blade antennae aft and myriad of smaller underside antennas. Baseline 8 Rivet Joints (in the 2000s) introduced the first major change to the external RC-135V/W configuration replacing the MUCELS antennas with plain blade antennas. The configuration of smaller underside antennas was also changed significantly.


The sole RC-135X Cobra Eye was converted during the mid-to-late-1980s from a C-135B Telemetry/Range Instrumented Aircraft, serial number 62-4128, with the mission of tracking ICBM reentry vehicles . In 1993, it was converted into an additional RC-135S Cobra Ball.


British RC-135W lands at RAF Waddington in May 2014

The United Kingdom
United Kingdom
bought three KC-135R aircraft for conversion to RC-135W Rivet Joint standard under the Airseeker project. Acquisition of the three aircraft was budgeted at £634m, with entry into service in October 2014. The aircraft formed No. 51 Squadron RAF , based at RAF Waddington along with the RAF's other ISTAR assets. They are expected to remain in service until 2045.

Previously, the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
had gathered signals intelligence with three Nimrod R1 aircraft,. When the time came to upgrade the maritime Nimrods to MRA4 standard , Project Helix was launched in August 2003 to study options for extending the life of the R1 out to 2025. The option of switching to Rivet Joint was added to Helix in 2008, and the retirement of the R1 became inevitable when the MRA4 was cancelled under the UK's 2010 budget cuts . The R1's involvement over Libya in Operation Ellamy delayed its retirement until June 2011.

Helix became Project Airseeker, under which three KC-135R airframes are being converted to RC-135W standard by L-3 Communications
L-3 Communications
. L-3 will also provide ongoing maintenance and upgrades under a long-term agreement. The three airframes are former United States
United States
Air Force KC-135Rs , all of which first flew in 1964 but will be modified to the latest RC-135W standard before delivery. The three airframes on offer to the UK are the youngest KC-135s in the USAF fleet. As of September 2010 the aircraft had approximately 23,200 flying hours, 22,200 hours and 23,200 hours.

51 Sqn personnel began training at Offutt in January 2011 for conversion to the RC-135. The first RC-135W (ZZ664) was delivered ahead of schedule to the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
on 12 November 2013, for final approval and testing by the Defence Support and Equipment team prior to its release to service from the UK MAA . The second one was once again delivered ahead of schedule on 4 September 2015 at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. The third was delivered in June 2017, and is scheduled to be fully operational by December 2017.


Three aircraft are in service for crew training, and lack fully functional mission equipment. One TC-135S (62-4133) provides training capability for the Cobra Ball mission, and is distinguishable from combat-ready aircraft by the lack of cheeks on the forward fuselage. It was converted from an EC-135B in 1985 following the crash of the former RC-135T 55-3121, which had been used as a trainer up to that point. In addition, two TC-135Ws (62-4127 and 4129) serve as training aircraft primarily for the Rivet Joint mission, but can also provide some training capability for RC-135U Combat Sent crews. They carry considerably fewer antennas than the fully equipped aircraft, but are otherwise similar in appearance to other Rivet Joint aircraft.


United States
United States


* 55th Wing
55th Wing
- Offutt AFB
Offutt AFB
, Nebraska

38th Reconnaissance Squadron
38th Reconnaissance Squadron
45th Reconnaissance Squadron
45th Reconnaissance Squadron
82d Reconnaissance Squadron ( Kadena Air Base , Japan
) 95th Reconnaissance Squadron ( RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall
, England
) 338th Combat Training Squadron 343d Reconnaissance Squadron United Kingdom
United Kingdom


* No. 51 Squadron RAF - RAF Waddington , UK


* On 17 July 1967, a KC-135R Rivet Stand, 59-1465, crashed on takeoff from Offutt Air Force Base , Nebraska
. The aircraft commander overrotated the plane, causing it to stall and crash just under a mile from the end of the runway on the edge of Papillion Creek . One of the five crew members aboard was killed. * On 13 January 1969, USAF RC-135S, 59-1491, called "Rivet Ball", was returning from an operational reconnaissance mission, when it landed at Shemya Air Force Base , AK in a snowstorm. The aircraft slid off the ice-covered runway and plunged into a 40-foot ravine. Later "Ball" aircraft were equipped with thrust-reversers on their TF-33 turbofan engines, but this aircraft had J-57 turbojet engines without reverse thrust capability. All eighteen crew members successfully evacuated the aircraft. The aircraft was written off as damaged beyond repair, but many components specific to the reconnaissance mission were salvaged for later use. * On 5 June 1969, USAF RC-135E, 62-4137, called "Rivet Amber", departed Shemya Air Force Base , AK for a ferry flight to Eielson Air Force Base , AK. Although the purpose of this ferry flight is sometimes described as routine maintenance, in fact the aircraft had encountered severe turbulence on its previous operational mission and had been cleared for a one-time flight to be checked for possible structural damage at the main operating base. "Rivet Amber" was the heaviest 135 series aircraft ever built and was a highly sophisticated aircraft with a radar that weighed over 35,000 pounds and under each wing were specialized pods housing a heat-exchanger (right wing) and an additional electrical generator (left wing). During the flight all contact with 62-4137 was lost and the wreckage of the aircraft was never found. * On 15 March 1981, USAF RC-135S, 61-2664, called "Cobra Ball", crashed on final approach in bad weather to Shemya Air Force Base , AK on a flight from Eielson Air Force Base , AK. The aircraft commander never established a proper glide path or descent rate on final and impacted the ground short of the runway. Of the twenty-four occupants of the aircraft, six were killed. * On 25 February 1985, USAF RC-135T, 55-3121, operating out of Eielson AFB , AK was flying practice approaches in very poor weather at the Valdez Municipal Airport, AK (VDZ). This one-time "Speed Light" aircraft had been re-engined with P">GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS

* LENGTH: 136 ft 3 in (41.53 m) * WINGSPAN : 130 ft 10 in (39.88 m) * HEIGHT: 41 ft 8 in (12.70 m) * WING AREA: 2,433 ft² (226 m²) * EMPTY WEIGHT : 175,000 lb (V/W models) (79,545 kg) * LOADED WEIGHT: 297,000 lb (135,000 kg) * MAX. TAKEOFF WEIGHT : 322,500 lb (146,000 kg) * POWERPLANT : 4 × CFM International F-108-CF-201 turbofan engines, 22,000 lbf (96 kN) each


* MAXIMUM SPEED : 580 mph (933 km/h) * RANGE : 3,450 mi (5,550 km) * SERVICE CEILING : 50,000 ft (15,200 m) * RATE OF CLIMB : 4,900 ft/min (1,490 m/min)


* United States Air Force
United States Air Force
portal * Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
portal * Aviation portal

* Rivet Amber crash * Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command

Related development

* C-135 Stratolifter * KC-135 Stratotanker * Boeing
EC-135 * WC-135 Constant Phoenix

Related lists

* List of active United States
United States
military aircraft



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United Kingdom
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* ^ A B http://www.aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19850225-3 * ^ "RC-135U Combat Sent factsheet". United States
United States
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* Cobra Ball – Federation of American Scientists * RC-135S Cobra Ball Air Force\'s optical intelligence collection platform – Federation of American Scientists