A United States Air Force Boeing WC-135 has this week operated multiple flights out of RAAF Base Amberley. Initially arriving as “TORA 84” from Diego Garcia, the WC-135 was also noted stopping in at Darwin earlier in the week, before returning to Amberley.
The WC-135 is assigned to the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base. The main role of the WC-135 is atmospheric collection, meaning it collects particulates from accessible regions of the atmosphere and analyses them for traces of nuclear explosions.
The Boeing WC-135 also serves during peacetime. In 2011, when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, the aircraft assisted in detecting and monitoring radioactivity in the atmosphere around Japan.
The WC-135 departed Amberley for Hickham on the 3rd of September with a KC-135, callsign ‘Fresh 61’.
A famous lineage
The WC-135 Constant Phoenix is one of several heavily modified Boeing C-135 Stratolifters, later developed into the KC-135 Stratotanker which the USAF still operates to date. The Boeing C-135 Stratolifter was itself developed from the Boeing 367-80, the aircraft which did the famous barrel roll over Seattle. Interestingly, in parallel, the Boeing 367-80 was also developed into the Boeing 707 which is well known as Boeing’s first successful, large-scale commercial jet airliner.
In addition to the WC-135 Constant Phoenix, other variants of the C-135 include:
- EC-135 Looking Glass: served as a ‘flying command post’ for the Strategic Air Command in the event of a nuclear war. Has since been retired from service.
- RC-135: reconnaissance for various forms of intelligence. Many configurations of the aircraft have resulted in a large amount of designations. More common aircraft include the RC-135S Cobra Ball and RC-135V/W Rivet Joint.
- OC-135B Open Skies: observation aircraft supporting the Treaty on Open Skies, used by the USAF to observe military activities undertaken by other signatories of the Treaty, particularly Russia.
Most of these specially modified aircraft are based at Offutt AFB with the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron.