Secret revealed from space: the RC-135V/W riveted joint is working

Contractor: L-3 Communications

Service: United States Air Force

Power Plant: Four CFM International F108-CF-201 high bypass turbofan engines

Speed: 500 mph

Range: 3,900 miles (6,500 kilometers)

Crew: (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

The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint is the U.S. Air Force’s primary signals intelligence aircraft. The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft supports 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 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 more than 30 people, including the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators and in-flight maintenance technicians.

The Rivet Joint fleet was re-engined with CFM-56 engines with an upgraded flight deck instrumentation and navigational systems to FAA/ICAO standards. These standards include conversion from analog readouts to a digital “glass cockpit” configuration.

All Rivet Joint airframe and mission systems modifications are overseen by L-3 Communications (previously Raytheon), under the oversight of Air Force Materiel Command.

The current RC-135 fleet is the latest iteration of modifications to this pool of -135 aircraft going back to 1962. 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.

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

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