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Rivet Joint

L-3 Communications is set to start flight testing on a KC-135 tanker, which is earmarked for conversion into the Rivet Joint airframe for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF), at its Greenville facility in Texas, US.

A UK Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) Organisation report was cited by Flightglobal as stating that the five-month testing will inform the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) about whether the aircraft will be able to secure full operational clearance as a converted signals intelligence asset.

Featuring a US Air Force RC-135W aircraft, the test campaign will also provide crucial flight performance information.

The DE&S said: "This programme will provide the UK with much-needed information to enable some aspects of the aircraft’s flight envelope to be validated.

"This will augment the limited availability of historical flight test information and enable a full release-to-service clearance of the USAF flight envelope to be considered.

"This programme will provide the UK with much-needed information to enable some aspects of the aircraft’s flight envelope to be validated."

"Another objective is for the USAF to collect detailed flight performance information that will be used to improve the fidelity of their dynamic simulators and so reduce the dependence on live flying."

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By GlobalData

Designated ZZ666, the aircraft is scheduled to enter its 30-month conversion process in January 2015, and will be handed over to the RAF in 2017.

Under the Airseeker programme, the RAF took delivery of the first RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft in November 2013, while the second modified aircraft is set to enter ground testing early next year, with its delivery expected in 2016.

The UK’s Rivet Joint made its operational debut by gathering intelligence data about Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Iraq while flying out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, according to the publication.

Primarily designed to perform air intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, the RC-135W aircraft can also conduct onboard analysis and share information with ground forces.

Image: The UK’s first RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. Photo: courtesy of the RAF / MoD Crown Copyright 2013.

Defence Technology