U.S. Air Force Retires One of Two WC-135 Constant Phoenix “Nuclear Sniffer” Aircraft

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) retired its one of the only two WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” aircraft, the service announced.

The aircraft, with tail number 582, departed its home base of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska on Nov. 16 for the final time after the decommissioning from service.

Originally built in 1962 and delivered to the Air Force as a KC-135 Stratotanker, the aircraft was first converted to an EC-135 Looking Glass before its transition into its WC-135 configuration in 1998. The aircraft was assigned to 45th Reconnaissance Squadron (45th RS) under the 55th Operations Group, a component of 55th Wing based at Offutt AFB.

WC-135’s mission is to collect samples from the atmosphere for the purpose of detecting and identifying nuclear explosions. Over the past 22 years, 582 has supported the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 by conducting atmospheric collection. The 45th RS has flown the aircraft roughly more than 1,300 time, with members of Detachment 1, Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) serving as special equipment operators collecting particulates and gaseous effluents and debris across the globe.

The aircraft’s official final flight with the 45th RS, commonly known across the Air Force as its fini-flight, took place Nov. 2, 2020. Upon landing, 582 received the traditional water salute, where two firetrucks shoot water over the aircraft, creating an archway.

Many current and former aircrew members from both the 45th RS and AFTAC Det. 1 attended the official retirement ceremony inside the Bennie L. Davis Maintenance Facility at Offutt on Nov. 13.

“Eventually all good things come to an end,” said Col. John Litecky, 55th Operations Group commander. “All in all, tail 582 has flown over 29,689 hours, which includes 72,251 landings for our Air Force in all her shapes and forms, and we are truly grateful for her service.”

One of only two WC-135s in the entire Air Force inventory, the fleet is scheduled to be replaced by the end of 2022 by three new WC-135Rs, which are converted KC-135R tankers.

“This particular WC-135 aircraft has proven finicky over these last two decades for our crews and maintainers,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Maus, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, “but nonetheless, it served our mission well.”

The aircraft is now at Majors Airport in Greenville, Texas, before it heads to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. Parts of the aircraft, such as the air foils and some other mission equipment, will be taken off and utilized on the new WC-135Rs, which will be soon delivered to the Air Force.

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