[Video] Up close and personal with the elusive RC-135 Rivet Joint at Al Udeid airbase, Qatar

You don’t happen to see many close up footage of the RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplane.

The Rivet Joint is a U.S. strategic asset that is used by the Pentagon in every theater across the globe to draw the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the enemy prior and during crisis or wars.

The aircraft is equipped with all sorts of antennae and sensors, to eavesdrop enemy signals, transmissions, detect frequencies used by radio and radars and pinpoint sites of interest, mobile stations, SAM batteries, etc. within a large area of operation, and transmit the snooped data via satellite.

Whereas an RC-135W is often launched from RAF Mildenhall, in the UK, to collect Russian emissions from the Baltic Sea, other Rivet Joint are based at Al Udeid airbase, Qatar, in the Persian Gulf, from where they operate within the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and keep an eye on the electromagnetic spectrum of Iranian (and Iraqi) and other regional forces.

Here’s an interesting video, with some close-ups on the elusive plane.


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


    • No, no it wouldn’t. I’m not going to get into why it wouldn’t, but you clearly have a lack of understanding as to what this plane actually does.

    • SR-71’s speed is why it isn’t a good fit and it does not have the loiter capability of the RC135. The SR-71 is going to make its run and go home,

      While both can air refuel the RC135 can hang out for much longer than a SR-71. Multiple flight crews could have them stay up 24 hours if desired. The RC135 can “backup” to focus on a signal or situation and I doubt the SR71 had the gross collection capability of the RC135. Take a look at the crew size on the RC135 it probably gives the RC135 more real time analysis ability too. Analysis that can be fed directly to resources in the thick of things.

    • One question.. where would the 22 crew members that are needed to operate all of the RC-135’s sensors sit in an SR-71?

      Hint: it would be a little bit cramped.

    • Interesting. What do you base your assertion on? It doesn’t matter, you’d be and are incorrect since the RC-135 started flying prior to the advent of the SR-71 and out lived the SR-71. It would seem the experts in the intelligence world wanted the RC-135 more so because they’re still in the flying inventory and they continue to upgrade them while the super fast and high flying SR-71 sits in museums.

  1. Cheetah, the SR-71 was good for photo and some ELINT work, BUT it could not “do this plane’s job a thousand times better.” I flew as an operator on the RC-135. The SR-71 flew too fast and its sensor package did not come close to the RC-135’s sensor package.

  2. The engines are very large, not only on the RC-135 but on the KC-135 that was shown as well. They seem large for a 707 air frame. Was this a military upgrade or did all late production 707’s receive them?

    • RC is very heavy, engines were upgraded awhile back for fuel economy and shorter TO and landing

    • The engines (along with many other items) are upgrades; these are NOT late production planes. They’ve been flying the same ones for 50 years or so.

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