UK’s first RC-135W “Airseeker” intelligence gathering aircraft in service by the end of 2013

A RC-135 Rivet Joint, assigned to the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, flies over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, June 19, 2011. The RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft supports theater and national level consumers with near real time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.

UK’s Royal Air Force will have the first of its planned three RC-135W aircraft, named the Airseeker project by the RAF (not clear if the aircraft is to be given that name or it’s just the name of the project) by December 2013.

Flight Global ran an article that padded out a few details on the British purchase of the Rivet-Joint aircraft.

The conversion of the ex-US Air Force KC-135 tankers started back in January 2011. The glass cockpit is well advanced in its installation and the first aircraft is thought to be rolling out for its paint scheme during January 2013, with flight testing and acceptance following soon after.

“A number of aircraft skins have been replaced to deal with corrosion and prepare the aircraft for its service life as an RC-135” UK’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) said in an article in its monthly publication “Decider”. “Additional work has included removing the tankers refuelling boom system, installing an air-to-air refuelling receiver system above the the cockpit, and replacing every wire in the aircraft. Mission equipment racks have also been fitted in the rear cabin, Progress in the aircraft is on schedule, with delivery on track for December next year.”

RAF crews have been undertaking training at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska on the RC-135V/W aircraft based there and once qualified on the Rivet Joint initial qualification training will be allowed to fly on the U.S Joint Rivet aircraft until the RAF aircraft are ready for service. The first crews arrived at Offutt during January 2011, therefore may have already qualified to operate the type.

The Airseeker aircraft will be operated by 51 Squadron flying from RAF Waddington, that flew the Nimrod until Jun. 29, 2011, when the last two examples of the SIGINT plane were withdrawn from service.

Richard Clements for

Image credit: U.S. Air Force