Design and Development
The first RC-135 variant, the RC-135A, were ordered in 1962 by the United States Air Force to replace the Boeing RB-50 Superfortress. Originally nine were ordered but this was later reduced to four. Boeing allocated the variant the designation Boeing 739-700 but they were modified variant of the KC-135A then in production. They used the same J57-P engines of the tanker variant but carried cameras in bay just aft of the nose undercarriage bay where the forward fuel tank was normally located. They had no refueling system fitted and they were to be used for photographic and surveying tasks.
The next variant ordered was the RC-135B to be used as an electronic intelligence aircraft to replace the Boeing RB-47H Stratojet on ELINT duties. Similar to the earlier variants the RC-135Bs were fitted with TF-33 turbofans rather than the older J57s. These ten aircraft were delivered directly into storage in 1965 while they awaited fitment of an improved electronics suite. By 1967 they had emerged as RC-135Cs and were all delivered that year. The refueling boom was not fitted and the boom operators station was used as a camera bay, for a KA-59 camera. Externally the aircraft were also fitted with sideways looking airborne radar (SLAR) antenna on either the lower forward fuselage.
The RC-135Bs were the last of the new aircraft built, all the RC variants that followed were modified aircraft, either from earlier RC variants or from tankers.
In 2005, the RC-135 fleet completed a series of significant airframe, navigational and power-plant upgrades which include re-engining from the Pratt & Whitney TF-33 to the CFM International CFM-56 (F-108) engines used on the KC-135R and T Stratotanker and upgrade of the flight deck instrumentation and navigational systems to the AMP standard. The AMP standard includes conversion from analog readouts to a digital "glass cockpit" configuration.
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