“Soviet mission markings” on a U.S. RC-135U spyplane used to monitor the Ukrainian crisis

Some interesting markings were noticed on the fuselage of a U.S. surveillance plane at RAF Mildenhall, in the UK. The reason behind them, is (somehow) unknown.

Traditionally, fighter jets that scored an air-to-air kill sport special markings (that may have the shape of stars, crosses, roundels, downed aircraft’s profile or silhouette, etc) painted on the sides. Similar markings (bombs, missiles, type of target etc) are also worn by fighter bombers to show the amount of ordnance spent by that specific aircraft against ground targets.

During “peacetime” operations, similar markings are sometimes applied to those aircraft that have scored simulated kills during mock air combat training, have dropped a new kind of weapon (on the range, for testing purposes), or have flown a specific mission. Needless to say, the markings which celebrate virtual kills are less significant than those earned during a conflict…..

However, not only tactical planes and fast jets wear these markings, as the image on this post, taken last month at RAF Mildenhall by photographer Gary Chadwick proves.

The photo shows the “mission markings” applied above the crew entry hatch, on the left hand side of the RC-135U Combat Sent 64-14849 “OF” with the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron/55th Wing of the U.S. Air Force: five hammer and sickle symbols along with the silhouettes of four aircraft carriers (outline reminds that of U.S. flattops rather than Russian Navy Admiral Kuznetsov).

The RC-135U is believed to be involved in missions to monitor the Ukrainian crisis since August 2014.

The Combat Sent is one of the most secretive U.S. surveillance planes that can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals. It provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information, performing signal analysis by means of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software, including the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System.

RC-135U refuel

Above: RC-135U refueled by KC-135 over Norway during mission out of RAF Mildenhall, UK, in September

On Apr. 23, a U.S. RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker in one of the most dangerous close encounters since the Cold War.

Top image credit: Gary Chadwick


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.


  1. Unless I’m mistaken, that Air Force serial number indicates that the plane was built in 1964. If so, it’s quite possible that those markings are from the Cold War era.

        • The first two numbers USUALLY indicate the yr it was CONTRACTED in. The yr of mfg is usually the next one in that case, but these days it may be two or three yrs. If it’s not a number that could be a year, then sometimes it may be really really old, as if 50 yrs isn’t enough. They apparently don’t have enough money to convert surplus 767 or other low time airframes into these type of misns. But then they don’t even have the money to fix the peeling paint on the B-52s and B-1s.

          • The 707 based fleet, which includes the KC-135 tankers, is actually a rare, rare case the taxpayer is getting their moneys’ worth. As the 707 ceased production for the military in 1991, the “youngest” military 707 based plane is 25 years old, while the oldest would be from 1957, almost 60!

  2. Is McCain, Nuland and Soros still meeting with the dual citizen junta oligarchs who started this civil war? A waste of US taxpayers money. $5 billion was already spent on this coup by the State Dept.

    • Enough about that, let’s talk FIAT money destroying the lives of climate scientists by deniers. And what’s this about Judge Crater I hear?

  3. The RC-135U in the picture (64-14849) has been one of three (64-14847 and 63-9792) RC-135C’s, used in the Cold War. The 1963 variant has been converted into a RC-135V, the other two are U’s, which are still used. (as seen here)

    The RC-135C flown on the borders of China & USSR in 1967. Codename ‘Burning Candy’ – what did they do exactly? Unknown. Other RC-135 variants have been used there aswell, and watched soviet missile tests.

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