Cold War Era

The story of the RC-135 Spy Plane that was diverted to intercept a Soviet Tu-95 bomber because no fighters were on alert. The RC-135 was renamed FC-135.

‘The RC-135 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,’ Roberto Benitez, worked on USAF RC-135 aircraft.

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.

Once an RC-135 was even diverted to intercept a Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber, Roberto Benitez, who worked on USAF RC-135 aircraft, recalls on Quora.

‘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.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. RC-135S Cobra Ball 55th Wing, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, 61-2663 – Offutt AFB, NE – 2015

‘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.’

Benitez concludes;

‘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

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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