Home » Government

First flight for RAF Waddington’s new Rivet Joint spy plane

The Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft based at RAF Waddington has been flown in UK airspace for the first time.

The UK Rivet Joint RC-135W signals intelligence aircraft at RAF Waddington is the first of three that the MOD have bought from the US as part of the Airseeker programme.

The aircraft will replace the retired Nimrod fleet, and will provide the UK with a world class real-time signals intelligence and surveillance capability for forces in the air and on the ground.

It gathers data and intelligence using advanced sensor technology plus carry out onboard analysis and distribute the information to those on the ground.

A Rivet Joint RC-135W aircraft over RAF Waddington. Photo: Sergeant Si Pugsley RAF, Crown copyright
A Rivet Joint RC-135W aircraft over RAF Waddington. Photo: Sergeant Si Pugsley RAF, Crown copyright

The RAF’s 51 Squadron have spent the past three years familiarising themselves with the Rivet Joint and its capabilities.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “These highly specialised aircraft and their supporting ground systems, bought off-the-shelf, provide Britain with a first-class intelligence-gathering capability that is value for money and another key part of our ability to interoperate with the US.”

The three aircraft cost the MOD £650 million, and were converted by L-3IS in Greenville, Texas, from a Boeing KC-135 tanker.

The aircraft will form part of project Airseeker, which will provide the UK with a world class capability able to provide real time on scene intelligence, surveillance and analysis to forces in the air and on the ground. Photo: SAC Blake Carruthers
The aircraft will form part of project Airseeker, which will provide the UK with a world class capability able to provide real time on scene intelligence, surveillance and analysis to forces in the air and on the ground. Photo: SAC Blake Carruthers

MOD Chief of Materiel (Air), Air Marshal Simon Bollom, who oversaw the procurement, said: “The first flight of the UK’s Rivet Joint RC-135W aircraft, as part of the Airseeker programme with an RAF crew, is a proud moment for all in the Defence Equipment and Support team who have worked, and continue to work, so hard to deliver this outstanding capability to the front line.

“We have procured an aircraft with a proven track record which has been successfully operated by the United States Air Force, with RAF crews under co-manning arrangements, for a number of years.

“We have worked very closely with our colleagues in the US on this project and today’s first flight signifies the commencement of a new and potent air ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) capability in the RAF inventory.”

The three planes will begin operation work from the Lincolnshire airbase in late 2014.