Saturday, April 20, 2024

US Air Force gets nuke-sniffing plane

The U.S. Air Force has announced that team Offutt officially welcomed its second WC-135R Constant Phoenix aircraft to its fleet as tail number 64-14831 arrived May 11, 2023.

The WC-135R is a special-purpose aircraft designed to carry out operations that consist of collecting air samples to screen for the presence of notable nuclear materials. It is also informally referred to as the “weather bird” or “the sniffer” by workers on the program and international media respectively.

The Air Force said in a release that the first WC-135R, tail number 64-14836, was delivered in July. This is the second of three the 55th Wing will receive as the Air Force modifies KC-135R Stratotankers to replace the now retired WC-135C/W fleet.


“We’re really pleased about what 836 has provided to us and very excited now to have a second jet,” said Lt. Col. Chris Crouch, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron commander. “831 adds capability and eases our decision-making burden as far as balancing operations and training.”

The WC fleet is operated by the 45th RS and 21st Surveillance Squadron, Det 1 to support national global atmospheric collection missions

“The fact that 831 matches 836 exactly from nose to tail, I expect us to have a much more fluid, efficient and better operations than what we had before with the two-legacy aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Sean Orme, Det. 1 commander. “I’m very excited.”

Originally delivered to the Air Force in 1964, tail 831 most recently flew with the Arizona Air National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing.

After being modified by the 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, better known as Big Safari, 831 arrives to Offutt with a brand-new cockpit and the same four high bypass turbofan engines as 836 as well as the rest of the wing’s 135 fleet.

“We’re now able to go further with less support, which makes it easier to go to places we’ve never operated out of,” Crouch said. “These aircraft really expand our capabilities.”

“We’ve had multiple successful deployments with 836 and far fewer maintenance issues than we had with the old fleet,” Orme said. “We can do so much more now.”

The third and final WC-135R is scheduled to be delivered sometime this fall.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Colton Jones
Colton Jones
Colton Jones is the deputy editor of Defence Blog. He is a US-based journalist, writer and publisher who specializes in the defense industry in North America and Europe. He has written about emerging technology in military magazines and elsewhere. He is a former Air Force airmen and served at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.