WC-135 Constant Phoenix flies in direct support of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System, a global network of nuclear detection sensors that monitor underground, underwater, space-based or atmospheric events
On Feb. 14, 2017 one of the Air Force’s most interesting aircraft visited Patrick Air Force Base (AFB) to give members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) a chance to get a glimpse of its inner-workings.
The WC-135 Constant Phoenix, AFTAC’s atmospheric sampling platform, with its cockpit crew from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron and its special equipment operators from AFTAC’s Detachment 1, flew from its home base, Offutt AFB, Neb., as reported by Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs in the article WC-135 Constant Phoenix visits Patrick AFB.
Actually, while its operational mission falls under the center’s command, many of those assigned in Florida rarely get a chance to see the aircraft in person, much less tour it.
More than 450 personnel funneled through the jet, which started with a close-up view of the cockpit, then moved through the body of the plane, where 9S100s (the Air Force specialty code that identifies special equipment operators) described how they collect debris during missions and prepare it to be processed for lab analysis.
Constant Phoenix flies in direct support of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System, a global network of nuclear detection sensors that monitor underground, underwater, space-based or atmospheric events. As the sole agency in the Department of Defense tasked with this mission, AFTAC’s role in nuclear event detection is critical to senior decision makers in the U.S. government.
“Our aircraft is equipped with external flow devices that allow us to collect airborne particulate on filter paper and a compressor system for whole air samples,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Wilkens, a 9S100 and airborne operations section chief. “The particulate samples are collected using a device that works like an old Wurlitzer jukebox. An arm grabs the paper from its slot and moves it to the exterior of the fuselage. After exposure, it is returned to the filter magazine where a new paper is selected for use. It’s a simple, yet very effective, concept.”
One of the visitors who toured the plane was David Campbell, a laboratory supply manager at AFTAC’s Ciambrone Radiochemistry Lab.
“I’ve been aboard a KC-135 before, and I wanted to see the differences for myself,” said Campbell. “I was really impressed with the important job the young Airmen have since they’re the ones directing the commissioned flight crew to where they need to fly when they’re on a mission. I also learned how tedious and time-consuming it is to load the air canisters on board and collect the samples for analysis. As a member of the lab that receives samples, it was definitely pretty cool to see where they come from.”
The WC-135W Constant Phoenix atmospheric collection aircraft supports national level consumers by collecting particulate and gaseous effluents and debris from accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
The aircraft is a modified C-135B or EC-135C platform. The Constant Phoenix’s modifications are primarily related to its on-board atmospheric collection suite, which allows the mission crew to detect radioactive “clouds” in real time. The aircraft is equipped with external flow-through devices to collect particulates on filter paper and a compressor system for whole air samples collected in holding spheres.
Source: U.S. Air Force; Photo credit: Susan A. Romano and Josh Plueger / U.S. Air Force
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com