First KC-135 arrives for Rivet Joint conversion for RAF

KC-135 Stratotanker that is destined to be the first UK Rivet Joint, as it arrived at Greenville Texas / ©

KC-135 Stratotanker that is destined to be the first UK Rivet Joint, as it arrived at Greenville Texas / ©

Posted By Philip Stevens

Following the decision to procure Rivet Joint as the replacement for the Nimrod R1, the first aircrew from No. 51 Squadron RAF Waddington deployed to commence operational conversion training on United States Air Force (USAF) Rivet Joint aircraft.

Participating in the training is Wing Commander Garry Crosby who will assume command of the Squadron in June. He said: “The RAF is delighted to be joining the Rivet Joint component in a new era of joint training and operations”

Following the formal announcement in March 2010 of the UK procuring three Rivet Joint aircraft, and the initial deployment of personnel, preparations for the transition have moved on apace. The new aircraft destined for the RAF are Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker airframes that will be transformed into Rivet Joint configuration by L-3 Communications of Greenville. This process involves a complete overhaul of the former tanker airframes followed by extensive remodelling, including the installation of high-tech surveillance equipment, extra cooling units and the bulbous radome that forms the distinctive nose of a Rivet Joint. This production process aspires to provide the first UK Rivet Joint for a scheduled delivery in 2013.

The first United States Air Force (USAF) KC-135 destined to be the first UK Rivet Joint has touched down at Greenville Texas ahead of its conversion.

Personnel from 51 Sqn have been training hard alongside their USAF counterparts at 338th Combat Training Squadron, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Training will take between 3 and 5 months depending on specific crew positions. Familiarisation of the sophisticated and sensitive suite of systems used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, to mastery of the safety and evacuation procedures all form part of the intensive on-going training.

This deployment forms part of an historic Co-Manning agreement between the two countries, witnessing selected UK personnel being trained to work alongside their USAF counterparts.

The 338th Combat Training Squadron forms part of the USAF 55th Wing at Offutt, which is the home to USAF Rivet Joints. There are 17 aircraft in the USAF fleet, although the majority are rarely seen at Offutt as the Wing has continuously deployed crew and aircraft worldwide.

As training progresses, Brigadier General John N.T. Shanahan, the 55th Wing Commander said: “It is truly an honor to have the Royal Air Force crews here with us at Offutt as part of the new US-UK Rivet Joint partnership. Their professionalism and dedication has been extraordinary. I know they are enjoying their training and we are learning a lot from them as well. This cooperative arrangement between our two countries will make strong bonds even stronger. The Airmen of the 55th Wing are very much looking forward to serving side-by-side with the RAF for years to come."

Following the completion of this extensive period of training, RAF personnel will participate in joint crew operations on board USAF aircraft. This opportunity offers vital continuity of operations for 51 Squadron prior to the RAF’s own Rivet Joint entering service.

As conversion training continues Wing Commander Crosby said: “This is a unique opportunity being able to train alongside our American colleagues. Training is extensive, demanding and varied and shows no sign of letting up. As we look to the future this initiative will bring the best of both fleets together to support operations”

RAF Waddington Station Commander Group Captain Chris Jones said: “The RAF transition from Nimrod R1 to Rivet Joint is the beginning of a new and exciting adventure for the UK and its vital electronic surveillance capability whilst bringing our Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance community much closer to our USAF partner within this very special relationship”

Once introduced into UK service, RAF Rivet Joints will be subject to the same rigorous servicing and maintenance schedule as their USAF counterparts. L3 Communications run a cyclic maintenance schedule, with every airframe entering the workshop for up to 18 months to undergo a complete overhaul - airframe and mission systems. In effect, the three RAF aircraft will contribute and play a key part in the resulting larger, twenty strong, global Rivet Joint fleet.

Source: Media and Communications Office, RAF Waddington

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