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C-135 Variants - Part 6

by Jennings Heilig


1. KC-135A 59-1481 "Weightless Wonder IV", Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, 1992


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Here are four more colour profiles of C-135 variants prepared in Illustrator:

1. KC-135A 59-1481 "Weightless Wonder IV", Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, 1992 (Title Profile Above)

This is NASA's venerable "Vomit Comet." N930NA was the fourth C-135 variant used in this role, having served longer than any other (1973-1995). If you've seen a photo or video of astronauts or scientists floating around in simulated zero-G, it was probably shot aboard this aircraft. She now rests in honorable retirement outside the gate at Ellington.


2. RC-135C 63-9792, 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, 1967



Boeing produced ten RC-135Bs which were delivered directly into long term storage with Martin Aircraft in Baltimore, Maryland in 1964 and early 1965. After much modification over the next two years, the bare RC-135Bs were transformed into "Big Team" RC-135Cs.

The RC-135C represented a quantum leap in SIGINT collection capability over the RB-47H that it replaced, and it was claimed to be able to scoop up "everything from DC to light".

This aircraft was the first RC-135C delivered to SAC (on 27 January 1967), and it was later converted to an RC-135U and then to an RC-135V, where it remains active today.

These next two are the first in a series of profiles of this historic airframe:

3. KC-135A 55-3121, Wright Air Development Center, Air Research & Development Command, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, 1959



KC-135A 55-3121 is perhaps the most historically significant airframe in the entire C-135 family.

She was the first KC-135A handed directly to the USAF from Boeing's assembly line, rather than being retained for company testing. She is shown here as she appeared early in her career as a testbed with the ARDC's Wright Air Development Center in the late 1950s.

At this time her duties included Arctic and desert testing, adverse weather testing, and she was used as an icing test spray aircraft.

The color scheme is fairly standard for the late 1950s, with fluorescent red-orange (faded by the sun to a more orange color) and a fashionable white crown over the cockpit area.

4. KC-135A 55-3121, Speed Light Alfa, 30 October 1961



Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev announced the intention of the USSR to explode a 100 megaton nuclear device on the island of Novaya Zemlya during the tense spring of 1961. The USAF intelligence community instituted a crash program to modify three KC-135As under the project name "Speed Light" to collect data on this enormous explosion (the largest ever attempted before or since).

There is some mystery surrounding exactly what happened, and when it happened, to the airplanes in this project, but it is fairly certain that 55-3121 was the primary aircraft used. In the event, the explosion only (only) yielded 58 megatons, which was lucky for the crews of the "Speed Light" airplanes.

As it was they were close enough to feel the scorching effects of the massive blast, and had it in fact yielded the desired 100 megatons, likely that would have been the end of the story for this airplane and her crew. Little is known of what unit(s) operated the "Speed Light" aircraft, nor of the brave crews who manned them.

Text and Images Copyright 2002 by Jennings Heilig
Page Created 01 January, 2003
Last updated 01 January, 2003

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