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RC-135 Rivet Joint

RC-135 Rivet Joint taking off
(larger version)

The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint is a United States Air Force reconnaissance aircraft used to support theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.

The aircraft is an extensively modified C-135 (the military version of the Boeing 707). The Rivet Joint's modifications are primarily related to its on-board sensor suite, which 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 interior seats 32 people, including the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators and in-flight maintenance technicians.

The Rivet Joint fleet is currently undergoing significant airframe, navigational and powerplant upgrades which include re-engining from the TF-33[?] to the CFM-56[?] engines used on the KC-135R[?] and upgrade of the flight deck instrumentation and navigational systems to the AMP standard[?]. The AMP standard includes conversion from analog readouts to a digital "glass cockpit[?]" configuration.

All Rivet Joint airframe[?] and mission systems modifications are overseen by L3[?]'s, formerly Raytheons, Greenville, Texas facility, under the oversight of the Air Force Material Command[?].

The current RC-135 fleet is the latest iteration of modifications to this pool of 135 aircraft going back to 1964. Initially employed by Strategic Air Command to satisfy nationally tasked intelligence collection requirements, the RC-135 fleet has also participated in every sizable armed conflict involving U.S. assets during its tenure. RC-135s were present supporting operations in Vietnam, the Mediterranean for Operation El Dorado Canyon, Grenada for Operation Urgent Fury, Panama for Operation Just Cause, and Southwest Asia[?] for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. RC-135s have maintained a constant presence in both Southwest Asia and in the area of the Balkans since the early 1990s.

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.

General Characteristics

  • Primary Function: Reconnaissance
  • Contractor: Raytheon
  • Power Plant: Four Pratt and Whitney TF33-P-5 turbofans
  • Thrust: 16,050 pounds each engine
  • Unrefueled Range: 3,900 miles (6,500 kilometers)
  • Length: 135 feet (41.1 meters)
  • Height: 42 feet (12.8 meters)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 297,000 pounds (133,633 kilograms)
  • Wingspan: 131 feet (39.9 meters)
  • Speed: 500+ miles per hour (Mach 0.66)
  • Flight Crew: Five (augmented) - three pilots, two navigators
  • Mission flight crew: 21-27, depending on mission requirements, minimum consisting of three electronic warfare officers, 14 intelligence operators and four inflight/airborne maintenance technicians
  • Date Deployed: Initial RC-135 conversions from 1964-1968; V/W configurations, 1981
  • Inventory: Active force, 14; Reserve, 0; Guard, 0



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