On Jun. 4, 2021 during a ceremony at the Lincoln Airport, the 55th Wing officially retired its final OC-135 Open Skies aircraft, tail number 670, the 55th Wing Public Affairs said in a news release.
Since 1996, the 55th Wing has supported the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and traveled around the world as part of the Open Skies Treaty mission.
“I want to thank all of the aircrews who flew the OC-135 mission for more than two decades and for their professionalism, safety record and for being great representatives of our country while in Russia,” said Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02), who spoke at the ceremony and served as 55th Wing commander from March 2011 to June 2012.
“I also want to thank all of the maintainers for working on some of the oldest, most rickety aircraft we have in the entire inventory and for keeping everyone safe,” Bacon said. “And finally, I want to thank our DTRA teammates, who operated the sensory equipment and provided imagery to 34 countries, many of whom depended on them greatly.”
Tail 670 was originally delivered to the US Air Force (USAF) as C-135B on Apr. 25, 1962 and served as military air transport with the 1501st Air Transportation Wing at Travis Air Force Base (AFB), California.
The aircraft was declared surplus and then redesignated as a WC-135B on September 1, 1965, and assigned to the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at McClellan AFB, California.
Tail 670 transitioned to the 55th Wing in October 1993 after completing its service as a weather reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft returned to the wing to serve the Open Skies Treaty in May 1996, after having been converted to an OC-135B.
“Over the years [the OC’s] have become beloved members of the 55th fleet, new in mission, but old and irritable in spirit,” said Col. John Litecky, 55th Operations Group commander, who was the presiding official for the ceremony.
Tail 670, as well as the wing’s other small motor jets, are essentially the same as they were upon delivery in 1962.
“They have developed a bit of a reputation as being cranky aircraft,” Litecky said. “And in their old age they have become notorious for having a higher than normal numbers maintenance issues and just a bear to deal with.”
Despite all of that, tail 670 still flew more than 13,000 times with more than 36,500 flight hours.
“This retirement ceremony represents so much more than the aircraft,” Litecky said. “It represents the thousands of flight hours and hundreds of aviators who called this aircraft their home for weeks at a time as they flew alone overseas, unafraid. It represents hundreds of thousands of hours maintainers spent diagnosing problems and fixing problems in temperatures well over 100 degrees and at times well below zero.”
A 45th Reconnaissance Squadron aircrew flew the aircraft to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, for placement in permanent storage at the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center there on Jun. 9.
As already reported, the first of the two USAF OC-135B Open Skies aircraft, tail number 672, was retired in May. The US withdrew from the Open Skies treaty late last year, and on May 25 a US official reportedly said that US told Russia it will not rejoin the arms control pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.
Three OC-135Bs were modified by the Aeronautical Systems Center’s 4950th Test Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The first initial operational capability (IOC) OC-135B was assigned to the 24th Reconnaissance Squadron, at Offutt AFB, Neb., in October 1993. The IOC aircraft was placed in permanent storage at Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz. Two fully operational OC-135B aircraft were delivered in 1996. The aircraft are modified WC-135Bs. Since its primary mission is to take pictures, most of the installed equipment and systems provide direct support to the cameras and the camera operator. Work on the aircraft also included installing an auxiliary power unit, crew luggage compartment, sensor operator console, flight following console and upgraded avionics. The USAF in recent years worked to update the aircraft’s cameras, and in 2020 canceled plans to recapitalize the fleet.
Photo credit: Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) via Wikipedia and Charles J. Haymond / U.S. Air Force
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