US Air Force WC-135C 62-3582 Constant Phoenix was photographed heading out from RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk at 11.50hrs today. The secretive aircraft is equipped with ‘sniffing’ equipment to detect and identify debris from nuclear weapons detonations.
The WC-135 arrived at 23.00hrs on Friday, February 17, leading to much speculation as to why the aircraft was deployed to Europe. Some sources suggest the deployment was in reaction to possible nuclear tests by Russia.
According to the USAF, the Constant Phoenix atmospheric collection aircraft ‘supports national-level consumers by collecting particulate and gaseous effluents and debris from accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.’
62-3582 departed Mildenhall in a north-easterly direction, with support from a pair of Mildenhall-based tankers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing: KC-135Rs 63-8021 61-0321, using the callsigns ‘Quid 524’ and ‘Quid 525’, respectively. Use of two tankers suggests the Constant Phoenix was embarking on a very long mission.
Tracking north off the east coast of Scotland.
RC-135W & WC-135C + 3 accompanying KC-135 tankers… pic.twitter.com/y8LIAxRpoh
— CivMilAir ✈ (@CivMilAir) February 22, 2017
The three aircraft were then sighted on the Virtual Radar Server flying along the east coast of Scotland, now accompanied by another KC-135 and an RC-135W Rivet Joint intelligence-gathering aircraft.
RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft perform communications intelligence missions along the frontiers of Vietnam, China, North Korea and Asiatic Russia, as well as in the Baltic and Barents Seas.
In early January, reports emerged of a spike in iodine levels in northern Europe. Although iodine can be present in the atmosphere for various reasons, it could be the result of some kind of nuclear incident, perhaps a nuclear test.
Two WC-135s are currently in service at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. While the cockpit crew is provided by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, special equipment operators are assigned to Det 1, Air Force Technical Applications Center at Offutt.
In recent years the WC-135s have been better associated with transits through Kadena Air Base. North Korea’s emergence as a nuclear power has made Constant Phoenix a familiar site at the Japanese base.