U.S. WC-135C nuclear radiation sniffing plane spotted over Europe. En-route to Syria?

Aug 28 2013 - 7 Comments
By Richard Clements

During the early hours on Aug. 28,  a WC-135C was spotted just to the South of the UK.

The aircraft was being refueled by a KC-135 tanker launched from RAF Mildenhall which met the “Sniffer” maybe out in the Atlantic.

The two WC-135 Constant Phoenix operated by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, are an atmospheric collections aircraft used to detect the radioactive particles that result from a nuclear detonation.

They were deployed near North Korea in anticipation of Kim Jong Un rocket launches earlier this year.

The WC-135C Constant Phoenix is used to take air samples from possible nuclear explosions. The question is can it do the same for Chemical Weapons?

Someone speculates the aircraft carries sensor even capable to detect chemical substances down wind from the attack area days, or week after they were dispersed.

Another possibility is that the aircraft was either coming or going to monitor Fukushima radioactive leak.

But if it were to be on its way to either Japan or North Korea then it would be expected to route via Hawaii and fly over the Pacific rather than head east over the Atlantic.

Here’s the audio file of the aircraft arranging refueling with its tanker near Malta during its eastbound flight (you can download and hear the whole file on the LiveATC website where we downloaded the raw one).

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com


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  • Daz

    Interesting plane – Given that they might fly through less that healthy air, I wonder do they have the ability to close off the cabin air intakes and fly on internal oxygen??

    • Steve Fortson

      They’re always flying on internal air. All of the -135 models have oxygen bottles back where the boom operator would normally be. If I remember correctly though the WC-135 can run off the pressurization from the engines, or from internal oxygen.

    • robertsgt40

      Gotta be better than the F-35

    • Darin R. Pfaff

      WC-135 airframes have two large supplemental charcoal filter packs, as well as HEPA/ULPA filters (we called them “lungs”) for their cabin air. When the instruments indicate contact with radioactive debris, the crew will also reduce cabin airflow to just maintain pressurization, and all personnel on board will go to 100% oxygen through their masks. They will stay on 100% O2 until activity readings drop back down into the safe levels. Everybody wears a dosimeter, and those records are monitored to prevent unsafe exposure. I flew that mission until I retired from the USAF in 2006.

  • Barry Bryant

    I wonder if they are on the lookout for Fukishima detritus which has been spewing into the Pacific for over two years. BP have wiped out the Gulf and Fukishima has now wiped out the Pacific.

  • Snarf

    Worked on this bird back in 1966-69 stationed at McClellan AFB, 55th WRS.

    • MaineMan

      I worked on 667 at McClellan over thew same period.