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RC-135W Arrives in Britain

The first RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft for Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) arrived at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, early on Nov. 12, after overnight delivery from the L3 Communications facility at Greenville, Texas. The plane is known in British parlance as an Air Seeker. It’s the first time a reconnaissance aircraft of this type will be operated by a non-U.S. user. Various versions of the RC-135 conducted sensitive intelligence-gathering flights during the Cold War and continue to do so today.

RC-135W Rivet Joint

The RC-135W Rivet Joint is known as an Air Seeker in British parlance and will plug a gap in the Royal Air Force’s signals-intelligence collection. U.K. Ministry of Defence photo by Senior Aircraftman Blake Carruthers

Britain’s three-plane RC-135W fleet will plug a gap in signals-intelligence collection left by the June 2011 retirement of the Nimrod R.1

The RAF will receive its second and third RC-135Ws in 2015 and 2017. The aircraft have monitoring stations in the rear fuselage but won’t have a complex intel-gathering system called Helix that Britain abandoned as an economy move.

The aircraft will serve with the RAF’s No. 51 Squadron and after an initial work-up phase will enter service late next year. The RAF will receive its second and third RC-135Ws in 2015 and 2017. The aircraft have monitoring stations in the rear fuselage but won’t have a complex intel-gathering system called Helix that Britain abandoned as an economy move.

RC-135W Rivet Joint

The first Royal Air Force (RAF) RC-135W Rivet Joint touches down at RAF Waddington after a flight from the L3 Communications facility at Greenville, Texas, Nov. 12, 2013. U.K. Ministry of Defence photo by Senior Aircraftman Blake Carruthers

Britain’s three Rivet Joint aircraft are:

  •         ZZ664 (ex-KC-135R 64-14833 c/n 18773)
  •         ZZ665 (ex-KC-135R 64-14838 c/n 18778)
  •         ZZ666 (ex-KC-135R 64-14840 c/n 18780)

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...