The US Air Force’s (USAF) 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base (AFB) has received its first of three WC-135R Constant Phoenix aircraft.

The aircraft, with tail number 64-14836, arrived at Lincoln Airport, Nebraska on 11 July. It will be fielded as the USAF’s atmospheric collection aircraft.

The latest delivery is part of the USAF’s programme to modify KC-135R Stratotankers to replace the legacy WC-135C/W fleet.

The modification of WC-135R was carried out by 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, also called Big Safari in Greenville, Texas.

The new aircraft is equipped with a new cockpit and same four high-bypass turbofan engines.

45th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) commander lieutenant colonel Chris Crouch said: “When you add power of those engines and lower weight of this jet, you have an aircraft that is much more fuel efficient.

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“We will have a lot more range to get to op areas that we could never reach before.”

The WC-135R will be operated and maintained by 45th RS, to support 21st Surveillance Squadron (SURS), Detachment 1 (Det 1) global missions.

21st SURS Det 1’s mission is to collect particulates, gaseous effluents and debris from accessible regions of atmosphere under the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Det 1 commander lieutenant colonel Sean Orme said: “The delivery of new aircraft ensures we keep pace with nuclear monitoring capabilities to continually reassure our allies.”

“The third aircraft will be pivotal in enhancing WC-135 ops flexibility, reliability, endurance, scientific analysis capacity and ensure crews are better ready to go into action at a moment’s notice.”

Delivery of second WC-135R is expected to take place in winter this year, followed by the third aircraft’s delivery scheduled in summer 2023.