The current RC-135 fleet is the latest iteration of modifications to this pool of -135 aircraft going back to 1962. Initially employed by Strategic Air Command to satisfy nationally tasked intelligence collection requirements, the RC-135 fleet has also participated in every sizable armed conflict involving US assets during its tenure.
RC-135s were present supporting operations in Vietnam, the Mediterranean for Operation El Dorado Canyon, Grenada for Operation Urgent Fury, Panama for Operation Just Cause, and Southwest Asia for operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. RC-135s have maintained a constant presence in Southwest Asia since the early 1990s.
‘One day a Soviet Tu-95 Bear recon bomber overflew the Alaska mainland. It wasn’t the first time.
‘The radar station notified Alaskan Air Defense Command (AADC) of the intrusion. There was only one minor problem, AADC was asleep at the wheel and had no fighters on alert.
‘So AADC called SAC at Eielson AFB in Fairbanks to see if they had any aircraft available to respond. Well, it just so happened that they had a Boeing RC-135 training in the area (close enough to give backend specialist a chance to monitor the Soviets for training), but over the Alaskan mainland.
‘The RC was diverted to do the intercept. The RC snuck up on the Bear from low rear and then pulled up alongside. It was a surprise to the Soviets. They were even more surprised when the RC backend crew asked them in Russian if they were lost. Of course, they were (uh huh). So, in Russian they were told where they were from, their unit, where they were, how to get home, and cheerfully escorted out of US airspace.’
‘Once got home, our unit painted a red star on the nose area and renamed the RC-135 (reconnaissance) to an FC-135 (fighter/interceptor).’
Photo credit: Crown Copyright and U.S. Air Force
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