Rare TC-135W Makes First Attendance At European Air Show In Malta

The TC-135W after landing at Malta International Airport (Image credit: Marcel-Rudi Mantaj)

One of the two training-configured TC-135W aircraft made an appearance at the Malta International Air Show 2023, last month.

The annual airshow organized by the Malta Aviation Society at the Malta International Airport in Luqa, has always attracted some really “exotic” attendees. The latest edition, held only on Saturday Sept. 23, 2023 (as the Sunday’s flying displays were cancelled due to adverse weather), was no exception.

Among the participants that took part in this year’s airshow, the rarest one was probably the TC-135W of the U.S. Air Force, coming from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The aircraft, registration 62-4127/MSN 18467, is one of the two TC-135Ws  assigned to the 55th Wing and the first to feature a glass cockpit modification as part of the fleet-wide “Baseline Charlie” program in 2019. It was built in 1962 as a RC-135A before being converted firstly in 2005 as a RC-135 and then again into a TC-135W at some point.

Flying as MAVRK 55 and operated by the 238th Combat Training Squadron of the 55th Wing, the aircraft arrived in Malta via RAF Waddington, UK, on Sept. 21.

Here’s a nice clip of the arrival in Luqa.

Its presence in Malta marked also the first time a TC-135W attended an airshow in Europe.

After the airshow, the TC-135W flew again to RAF Waddington on Sept. 25. The trainer aircraft spent a few days in the UK, conducting routine flight deck training with their colleagues at the Royal Air Force’s 51 Squadron.

According to RAF, while in the U.S. Air Force, the crew also shared knowledge and expertise of engine-running crew changes and hot pit refueling. The goal was to help 51 Squadron develop its approach towards Agile Combat Employment options for their commanders.

A TC-135 training aircraft from the 55th Wing lands at Royal Air Force Waddington, U.K., September 25, 2023. The 55th Wing took the TC-135 to England to conduct routine flight deck training with their partners at 51 Squadron, who have been flying RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft for more than 10 years now (Courtesy photo)

While combined force tactics is nothing new, ACE requires a higher degree of interoperability in the critical activities of command and control, engineering and logistics, base defense, intelligence-sharing and others, says an official release.

The TC-135W jets serve (62-4127 and 4129) serve as training aircraft primarily for the Rivet Joint mission, but can also provide some training capability for RC-135U Combat Sent crews. They carry considerably fewer antennas than the fully equipped aircraft, but are otherwise similar in appearance to other Rivet Joint aircraft.


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.