Third, final WC-135R Constant Phoenix arrives

  • Published
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

The third and final WC-135R Constant Phoenix aircraft, tail number 64-14829, arrived at its new home here December 4, 2023.

Its homecoming marks the conclusion of the Air Force’s transition from the legacy WC-135W fleet of two jets to the WC-135R fleet of three aircraft, which began in 2019.

The WC’s mission to support national global atmospheric collection missions is operated by the 55th Wing’s 45th Reconnaissance Squadron and the Air Force Technical Application Center’s 21st Surveillance Squadron, Detachment 1.

“This is an historic day for the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth and our most valued teammates at AFTAC,” said Col. Mark Howard, 55th Wing commander.

“This one-of-a-kind mission of mobile nuclear airborne sampling requires the extensive cooperation between our two organizations, and the Airmen who get it done are crushing it day in and day out,” said Col. James Finlayson, AFTAC commander.

The first WC-135R arrived in July 2022 and the second this past May. With the arrival of number three, the units will enjoy much more flexibility than ever before.

“Having this third jet really opens up a lot of options for us,” Howard said. “We’re not only able to answer the combatant commanders calls at any moment, but we’re also able to provide crucial home station training and give the 45th RS a lot of balance operationally.”

“Adding a third aircraft to our inventory illustrates the critical importance of the jet’s capabilities and the needs of our national decision makers,” Finlayson said. “For the first time in our nation’s history we have the ability to respond to simultaneous events without mission degradation or diversion of assets.”

Tail 829 was originally delivered to the Air Force in 1964 and most recently flew with the Arizona Air National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing.

After being modified by the 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, also known as Big Safari, the aircraft arrives at Offutt with a brand-new cockpit and the same CFM-56 turbofan engines as the rest of the wing’s 135 fleet. This casts a wider net for potential aircrew and eases some of the burden on maintenance personnel.

“Having the same engines across the entire fleet is huge for our pilots as well as our maintainers,” Howard said. “The arrival of this aircraft is really a positive across the board from those who execute the mission to those who ensure its safe to fly to our schedulers who are working day in and day out ensuring our fleet is postured properly.”

“I can’t say enough about the flying crew, the maintainers, the ground support personnel, and of course, AFTAC’s own special equipment operators who are the true heroes in this endeavor,” Finlayson said. “This is a great day for the Air Force, and an even greater day for the partnership AFTAC shares with the 55th Wing.”