The first RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft was today delivered to RAF Waddington. Gordon Jones reports for GAR.
After completing its flight trials ahead of schedule the first of three RAF RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft arrived at RAF Waddington for formal acceptance. The signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft has been purchased from the United States under Project AIRSEEKER to replace the capability that the Nimrod R1 provided before its withdrawal from service in 2011. It was also confirmed today they will be operated under the Rivet Joint name keeping with the tradition of using the US designation for a US aircraft in RAF service.
For the interim period between the Nimrod’s withdrawal and the Rivet Joint reaching full operating capability personnel from 51 Squadron have been operating on the USAF Rivet Joint fleet with personnel from the 55th Reconnaissance Wing under a co-manning agreement. To date they have flown more than 32,000 hours and 1800 sorties with their US counterparts. This has allowed skills to be maintained and developed on the aircraft ahead of their delivery to the RAF.
The aircraft the RAF have purchased will be converted from surplus USAF KC-135 tankers which have been overhauled to ‘zero hour’ them. The conversation is carried out by L-3 Communications based in Texas which also undertook the flight trials and the delivery flight to the UK using the test flight call sign of SAME 40 before changing to the 51 Squadron call sign of VULCAN 51 when in UK military air space.
The airframe delivered today was originally 64-14833 and technically remains so until the RAF has accepted the airframe when it will formally become ZZ664, with the others assigned ZZ665 and ZZ666. The serial was chosen to reflect the serials used on the Nimrod R1 which were XW664, XW665 and XW666.
The airframes will also be delivered with the latest upgrades fitted to them. When ZZ664 arrived today the FAB-T satellite communication ‘hump’ located to the rear of the cabin and the modifications to the cheek pods seen on the US Rivet Joint aircraft that have undergone the upgrade process confirmed this was the case.
Now ZZ664 has been received it will undergo the process for its acceptance by Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) before the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) assesses the aircraft for an airworthiness certification, a process that couldn’t be started until the aircraft had been delivered. In the meantime 51 Squadron will continue to operate on USAF Rivet Joints. It is planned that all three aircraft will have been delivered and full operational capability will be achieved by mid-2017.