Boeing RC-135 is a family of large reconnaissance aircraft built
Boeing and modified by a number of companies, including General
Dynamics, Lockheed, LTV, E-Systems, and L3 Technologies, and used by
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
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
3.1 KC-135A Reconnaissance Platforms
3.2 KC-135R Rivet Stand / Rivet Quick
3.3 C-135T Cobra Jaw
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)
5 Accidents and incidents
6 Specifications (RC-135)
7 See also
9 External links
Design and development
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 a modified variant of the KC-135A then in production. They used
the same Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines as the tanker, but
carried cameras in a bay just aft of the nose wheel well where the
forward fuel tank was normally located. They had no in-flight
refueling system and they were to be used for photographic and
The next variant ordered was the RC-135B, to be used as an electronic
intelligence aircraft to replace the
Boeing RB-47H Stratojet, an ELINT
platform. Unlike the earlier variants, the RC-135Bs had Pratt &
TF33 turbofans rather than the older J57s. These ten aircraft
were delivered directly to
Martin Aircraft beginning in 1965 for
installation of their operational electronics suite. By 1967, they
emerged as RC-135Cs and all entered service that year. The refueling
boom was not fitted and the boom operator station was used as a camera
bay for a KA-59 camera. Externally, the aircraft were fitted with
sideways looking airborne radar (SLAR) antenna on the lower forward
The RC-135Bs were the last of the new aircraft built. All further
reconnaissance variants that followed were modified aircraft, either
from earlier RC-135 variants or from tankers and transports.
In 2005, the RC-135 fleet completed a series of significant airframe,
navigation and powerplant upgrades which include re-engining from the
TF33 to the CFM International
CFM-56 (F108) engines used on the
KC-135R and T Stratotanker and upgrade of the flight deck
instrumentation and navigation systems to the AMP standard. The AMP
standard includes conversion from analog readouts to a digital "glass
The current RC-135 fleet is the latest iteration of modifications to
this pool of aircraft dating back to the early 1960s. Initially
Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command for reconnaissance, the RC-135 fleet
has participated in every armed conflict involving U.S. forces during
its tenure. RC-135s supported operations in Vietnam War, the
Mediterranean for Operation El Dorado Canyon,
Grenada for Operation
Panama for Operation Just Cause, the
Operations Deliberate Force and Allied Force, and
Southwest Asia for
Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi
Freedom. RC-135s have maintained a constant presence in Southwest Asia
since the early 1990s. They were stalwarts of Cold War operations,
with missions flown around the periphery of the USSR and its client
states in Europe and around the world.
Originally, all RC-135s were operated by Strategic Air Command. Since
1992 they have been assigned to Air Combat Command. The RC-135 fleet
is permanently based at Offutt Air Force Base,
Nebraska and operated
by the 55th Wing, using forward operating locations worldwide. The
55th Wing operates 22 platforms in three variants: three RC-135S Cobra
Ball, two RC-135U Combat Sent, and 17 RC-135V/W Rivet Joint.
On August 9, 2010, the Rivet Joint program recognized its 20th
anniversary of continuous service in Central Command, dating back to
the beginning of Desert Shield. This represents the longest unbroken
presence of any aircraft in the Air Force inventory. During this time
it has flown over 8,000 combat missions supporting air and ground
forces of Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Northern Watch,
Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, which continues to
On 22 March 2010 the British Ministry of Defence announced that it had
reached agreement with the US Government to purchase three RC-135W
Rivet Joint aircraft to replace the Nimrod R1, which was subsequently
retired in June 2011. The aircraft, to be styled as
'Airseeker', are scheduled to be delivered by 2017 at a total cost of
around £650 million, including provision of ground infrastructure,
training of personnel and ground supporting systems. In 2013,
the UK government confirmed that crews from the RAF's 51 Squadron had
been training and operating alongside their USAF colleagues since
2011, having achieved in excess of 32,000 flying hours and 1,800
sorties as part of the US 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Offutt
AFB. The RAF received the first RC-135W in September 2013, which
was deployed from July 2014 to support coalition action against combat
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants in Iraq. The second
aircraft was delivered seven months ahead of schedule in September
2015, with over sixty improvements incorporated ranging from upgrades
to the aircraft’s mission systems to engine improvements providing
increased fuel efficiency and durability. In due course, the first
Airseeker will receive the same upgrades. The aircraft will be
air-to-air refuelled in service by USAF tankers based in Europe, as
the UK does not operate boom-equipped refueling aircraft and has no
plans to adapt drogue-equipped aircraft.
KC-135A Reconnaissance Platforms
At least four KC-135A tankers were converted into makeshift
reconnaissance platforms with no change of Mission Design Series (MDS)
designation. KC-135As 55-3121, 55-3127, 59-1465, and 59-1514 were
modified beginning in 1961. That year the Soviet Union announced its
intention to detonate a 100 megaton thermonuclear device on Novaya
Zemlya, the so-called Tsar Bomba. A testbed KC-135A (55-3127) was
modified under the
Big Safari program to the SPEED LIGHT BRAVO
configuration in order to obtain intelligence information on the test.
The success of the mission prompted conversion of additional aircraft
for intelligence gathering duties.
KC-135R Rivet Stand / Rivet Quick
Not to be confused with the CFM F108-powered KC-135R tanker, the
KC-135R MDS was applied in July 1967 to the three KC-135A
reconnaissance aircraft under the Rivet Stand program. The three
aircraft were 55-3121, 59-1465, and 59-1514; 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, a remnant of their service as
intelligence gathering platforms.
C-135T Cobra Jaw
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 & Charting Service, based
at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia and later at Forbes Air Force Base,
Kansas as part of the 1370th Photographic Mapping Wing. The mission
was soon assumed by satellites, and the RC-135As were de-modified and
used as staff transports. In the early 1980s they were further
converted to tankers with the designation KC-135D (of the same basic
configuration as the KC-135E, plus some remaining special mission
equipment). Due to delays in reinstalling their original equipment,
the RC-135As were the last of the entire C-135 series delivered to the
Boeing model number for the RC-135A is 739-700.
The as-delivered version of the RC-135. The RC-135B was never used
operationally, as it had no mission equipment installed by Boeing. The
entire RC-135B production run of ten aircraft was delivered directly
Martin Aircraft in Baltimore, Maryland for modification and
installation of mission equipment under the
Big Safari program. Upon
completion, the RC-135Bs were re-designated RC-135C. The
number for the RC-135B is 739-445B.
RC-135C Big Team
Modified and re-designated RC-135B aircraft used for strategic
reconnaissance duties, equipped with the AN/ASD-1 electronic
intelligence (ELINT) system. This system was characterized by the
large 'cheek' pods on the forward fuselage containing the Automated
ELINT Emitter Locating System (AEELS – not Side Looking
Airborne Radar – SLAR, as often quoted), as well as numerous
other antennae and a camera position in the refuelling pod area of the
aft fuselage. The aircraft was crewed by two pilots, two navigators,
numerous intelligence gathering specialists, inflight maintenance
technicians and airborne linguists. When the RC-135C was fully
deployed, SAC was able to retire its fleet of RB-47H Stratojets from
active reconnaissance duties. All ten continue in active service as
either RC-135V Rivet Joint or RC-135U Combat Sent platforms.
RC-135D Office Boy / Rivet Brass
The RC-135Ds, originally designated KC-135A-II, were the first
reconnaissance configured C-135's given the 'R' MDS designation,
although they were not the first reconnaissance-tasked members of the
C-135 family. They were delivered to Eielson Air Force Base,
1962 as part of the Office Boy Project. Serial numbers were 60-0356,
60-0357, and 60-0362. The aircraft began operational missions in 1963.
These three aircraft were ordered as KC-135A tankers, but delivered
without refueling booms, and known as "falsie C-135As" pending the
delivery of the first actual C-135A cargo aircraft in 1961. The
primary Rivet Brass mission flew along the northern border of the
Soviet Union, often as a shuttle mission between Eielson and RAF Upper
Heyford, Oxfordshire, and later RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, UK. The
RC-135D was also used in Southeast Asia during periods when the
RC-135M (see below) was unavailable. In the late 1970s, with the
expansion of the RC-135 fleet powered by
TF33 turbofan engines, the
RC-135Ds were converted into tankers, and remain in service as
RC-135E Lisa Ann / Rivet Amber
Originally designated C-135B-II, project name Lisa Ann, the RC-135E
Rivet Amber was a one-of-a-kind aircraft equipped with a large 7 MW
Hughes Aircraft phased-array radar system. Originally delivered as
a C-135B, 62-4137 operated from
Shemya Air Force Station,
1966 to 1969. Its operations were performed in concert with the
RC-135S Rivet Ball aircraft (see below). The radar system alone
weighed over 35,000 pounds and cost over US$35 million (1960 dollars),
making Rivet Amber both the heaviest C-135-derivative aircraft flying
and the most expensive Air Force aircraft for its time. The radiation
generated by the radar was sufficient to be a health hazard to the
crew, and both ends of the radar compartment were shielded by thick
lead bulkheads. This prevented the forward and aft crew areas from
having direct contact after boarding the aircraft. The system could
track an object the size of a soccer ball from a distance of 300 miles
(480 km), and its mission was to monitor Soviet ballistic missile
testing in the reentry phase. The power requirement for the phased
array radar was enormous, necessitating an additional power supply.
This took the form of a podded Lycoming T55-L5 turboshaft engine in a
pod under the left inboard wing section, driving a 350kVA generator
dedicated to powering mission equipment. On the opposite wing in
the same location was a podded heat exchanger to permit cooling of the
massive electronic components on board the aircraft. This
configuration has led to the mistaken impression that the aircraft had
six engines. On June 5, 1969, Rivet Amber was lost at sea on a ferry
Eielson AFB for maintenance, and no trace of the
aircraft or its crew was ever found.
RC-135M Rivet Card
The RC-135M was an interim type with more limited
than the RC-135C but with extensive additional COMINT capability. They
were converted from Military Airlift Command C-135B transports, and
operated by the
82d Reconnaissance Squadron
82d Reconnaissance Squadron during the Vietnam War
from Kadena AB, gathering signals intelligence over the Gulf of Tonkin
and Laos with the program name Combat Apple (originally Burning
Candy). There were six RC-135M aircraft, 62-4131, 62-4132,
62-4134, 62-4135, 62-4138 and 62-4139, all of which were later
modified to and continue in active service as RC-135W Rivet Joints by
the early 1980s.
RC-135S Nancy Rae / Wanda Belle / Rivet Ball
Rivet Ball was the predecessor program to
Cobra Ball and was initiated
with a single RC-135S (serial 59-1491, formerly a JKC-135A) on
December 31, 1961. The aircraft first operated under the Nancy Rae
project as an asset of Air Force Systems Command and later as an
RC-135S reconnaissance platform with
Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command under
project Wanda Belle. The name Rivet Ball was assigned in January 1967.
The aircraft operated from
Shemya AFB, Alaska. Along with most other
RC-135 variants, the RC-135S had an elongated nose radome housing an S
band receiving antenna. The aircraft was characterized by ten large
optically flat quartz windows on the right side of the fuselage used
for tracking cameras. Unlike any other RC-135S, Rivet Ball also had a
pleixiglass dome mounted top center on its fuselage for the Manual
Tracker position. It holds the distinction of obtaining the very first
photographic documentation of Soviet
Multiple Reentry vehicle
Multiple Reentry vehicle (MRV)
testing on October 4, 1968. On January 13, 1969 Rivet Ball was
destroyed in a landing accident at
Shemya when it hydroplaned off the
end of the runway with no fatalities.
RC-135S Cobra Ball
Cobra Ball aircraft on the flightline at Offutt Air Force Base,
Nebraska in 2001.
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
There are three aircraft in service and they are part of the 55th
45th Reconnaissance Squadron
45th Reconnaissance Squadron based at Offutt Air Force Base,
Cobra Ball aircraft were originally assigned to
used to observe ballistic missile tests on the
Kamchatka peninsula in
Cobra Dane and Cobra Judy. Two aircraft were
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
RC-135T Rivet Dandy
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 & Whitney TF33-PW102 engines
and other modifications common to the KC-135E tanker program, and
returned to Eielson AFB. It crashed while on approach to Valdez
Alaska on 25 February 1985 with the loss of three crew
members. The wreckage was not found until August 1985, six months
after the accident.
RC-135U Combat Sent
Combat Sent aircraft in flight with its unique nose cone, wingtips,
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 antenna arrays on the fuselage chin,
tailcone, and wing tips, three RC-135C aircraft were converted to
RC-135U (63-9792, 64-14847, & 64-14849) in the early 1970s.
63-9792 was later converted into a Rivet Joint in 1978, and all
aircraft remain in service based at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Minimum crew requirements are 2 pilots, 2 navigators, 3 systems
engineers, 10 electronic warfare officers, and 6 area specialists.
RC-135V/W Rivet Joint
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 in
Greenville, Texas, under the oversight of the Air Force Materiel
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
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.
RC-135X Cobra Eye
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
RC-135W Rivet Joint (Project Airseeker)
British RC-135W lands at
RAF Waddington in May 2014
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.
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
will also provide ongoing maintenance and upgrades under a long-term
agreement. The three airframes are former
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 Air Force
United States Air Force - Air Combat Command
55th Wing - Offutt AFB, Nebraska
38th Reconnaissance Squadron
45th Reconnaissance Squadron
82d Reconnaissance Squadron
82d Reconnaissance Squadron (Kadena Air Base, Japan)
95th Reconnaissance Squadron
95th Reconnaissance Squadron (RAF Mildenhall, England)
338th Combat Training Squadron
343d Reconnaissance Squadron
Royal Air Force
No. 51 Squadron RAF
No. 51 Squadron RAF - RAF Waddington, UK
Accidents and incidents
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
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
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&W TF-33 engines but was at
this time only used for proficiency training in landings and air
refueling, not for operational reconnaissance missions, but was
sometimes called "Rivet Dandy". The first two approaches were
uneventful, but the crew apparently became disoriented and the third
Microwave Landing System
Microwave Landing System (MLS) approach was commenced some four miles
(6.4 km) north of the prescribed MLS inbound course. The crew of
three (two pilots and a navigator) were killed when the aircraft flew
into the side of a mountain. The approach procedure being attempted
was certified for a de Havilland Canada DHC-7,
STOL airplane. Both the
glide slope and missed approach flight path were too steep for an
RC-135 aircraft. The wreckage was not located until 2 August 1985.
On 30 April 2015, USAF RC-135V, 64-14848, operating out of Offutt AFB,
NE aborted takeoff on a routine training mission when crewmembers
observed smoke and flames coming from the aft galley. The aircraft
commander aborted the takeoff at about 50 KIAS and the cockpit crew,
electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators and in-flight
maintenance technicians—27 individuals in all—evacuated the
aircraft. Although there were no injuries, except for minor smoke
inhalation, the ensuing fire damaged aircraft control and mission
related systems. Total repair cost was estimated at $62.4 million US.
The cause of the mishap was failure by L3 Communications depot
maintenance personnel to tighten a retaining nut connecting a metal
oxygen tube to a junction fitting above the galley. This resulted in
an oxygen leak and caused a highly flammable oxygen-rich environment
that ignited. The resulting fire melted the retaining nut and caused
the tubing to become detached, which fed even more to the fire,
increased its size and caused severe damage to the airframe, galley
and mission equipment aboard the aircraft. The oxygen system work
which was listed as the cause of this 2015 mishap was completed in
Data from USAF RC-135 Data Sheet 
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
Rivet Amber crash
Strategic Air Command
WC-135 Constant Phoenix
List of active
United States military aircraft
^ a b Hoyle, Craig (22 March 2010). "UK approves Rivet Joint
purchase". Flight International. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
^ a b c "KC-135". US Warplanes.net. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
^ a b c d Young, Susan H.H. (2008). "2008 USAF Almanac: Gallery of
USAF Weapons" (PDF). AIR FORCE Magazine. 91 (5): 145–146. Retrieved
15 February 2009.
^ "RJs hit 8,000 missions in AOR". Offutt Air Force Base. 2010.
Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. Retrieved 25 September
^ House of Commons Hansard Ministerial Statements for 22 Mar 2010 (pt
^ a b "
United Kingdom RC-135V/W Rivet Joint Aircraft" (PDF). Defense
Security Cooperation Agency. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on
19 March 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
^ "Nimrod R1 aircraft in final flight for RAF". BBC. 28 June 2011.
Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ Dorr, Robert F. (22 April 2011). "British RC-135W Air Seeker Crews
in Training". Defense Media Network. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ a b "New RAF Intelligence Aircraft Arrives In UK Seven Months
Early". Defense Aerospace. 4 September 2015.
^ "First Rivet Joint aircraft delivered to the UK". UK Ministry of
Defence. 12 November 2013.
^ RAF Rivet Joint on first operational deployment over Iraq -
Flightglobal.com, 21 August 2014
^ "RAF, USAF Work On Rivet Joint Refueling Deal". Aviation Week. 5
^ C-135 Variants Part 2 by Jennings Heilig
^ a b A Tale of Two Airplanes by Kingdon R. Hawes
^ Hopkins III, Robert S. (1997). The KC-135 Stratotanker; More Than
Just a Tanker. Midland Publishing Limited.
^ a b http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19690605-0
^ a b 82d Recon Page Archived October 23, 2005, at the Wayback
^ Don Logan, C-135 Series, Schiffer Publishing
^ C-135 Variants - Part 1, by Jennings Heilig
^ "Air Force Magazine, October 2008" (PDF). Retrieved
^ a b http://www.aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19850225-3
^ "RC-135U Combat Sent factsheet".
United States Air Force. 28
September 2007. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
^ Richelson, Jeffrey T. (2015-07-14). The U.S. Intelligence Community.
Avalon Publishing. ISBN 9780813349190.
^ a b c "RC-135V/W Rivet Joint factsheet".
United States Air Force. 31
March 2009. Archived from the original on 20 March 2011. Retrieved 10
^ Rendall, David. Jane's Aircraft Recognition Guide, 2000.
^ C-135 Variants - Part 3 by Jennings Heilig
^ Perry, Dominic (12 November 2013). "PICTURES: First RAF Rivet Joint
aircraft arrives in UK". Flight Global. Retrieved 18 December
^ "Ministry of Defence – The Major Projects Report 2012 Appendix 3"
(PDF). National Audit Office. 8 January 2013. p. 32. Archived
from the original (pdf) on 19 December 2013.
^ a b "Ministry of Defence – The Major Projects Report 2010 Appendix
2" (PDF). National Audit Office. 15 October 2010. p. 24. Archived
from the original (pdf) on 5 November 2013.
^ UK Yet To Confirm Nimrod SIGINT Replacement: AINonline Archived
February 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
^ House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 18 Jan 2011 (pt 0004)
^ Hoyle, Craig (14 January 2011). "RAF personnel start Rivet Joint
training". Flight International. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
^ "Type 26 Frigate Production Approval Date Revealed in Letters
Release". Defense News. 22 April 2016.
^ Allison, George (8 June 2017). "UK takes delivery of third and final
RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft". UK Defence Journal.
Archived from the original on 12 June 2017. Retrieved 12 June
Cobra Ball – Federation of American Scientists
Cobra Ball Air Force's optical intelligence collection
platform – Federation of American Scientists
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Rivet Joint page on FAS.org
The RB-47 & RC-135 in Vietnam By Bruce Bailey
"A Tale of Two Airplanes" by Kingdon R. "King" Hawes, Lt Col, USAF
Boeing C-135 and 707 military transport aircraft
United States General Defense Intelligence Programs