The US Air Force’s 55th Wing held a retirement ceremony for its final OC-135 Open Skies aircraft, tail number 670, at the Lincoln Airport on June 4.
The 55th Wing has supported the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and traveled around the world as part of the Open Skies Treaty mission since 1996.
The retirement of the final USAF Open Skies bird coincided with Russia’s announcement on withdrawing from the post Cold War treaty that was designed to build confidence between Russia and NATO. The US announced its exit from the treaty in November last year.
“I want to thank all of the aircrews who flew the OC-135 mission for more than two decades and for their professionalism, safety record and for being great representatives of our country while in Russia,” said Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02), who spoke at the ceremony and served as 55th Wing commander from March 2011 to June 2012.
“I also want to thank all of the maintainers for working on some of the oldest, most rickety aircraft we have in the entire inventory and for keeping everyone safe,” Bacon said. “And finally, I want to thank our DTRA teammates, who operated the sensory equipment and provided imagery to 34 countries, many of whom depended on them greatly.”
Originally delivered to the Air Force as a C-135B on April 25, 1962, tail 670 served as military air transport with the 1501st Air Transportation Wing at Travis Air Force Base, California.
Declared surplus, the aircraft was redesignated as a WC-135B on September 1, 1965, and assigned to the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at McClellan Air Force Base, California.
After completing its service as a weather reconnaissance aircraft, tail 670 transitioned to the 55th Wing in October 1993. Converted to an OC-135B, the aircraft returned to the wing to serve the Open Skies Treaty in May 1996.
“Over the years [the OC’s] have become beloved members of the 55th fleet, new in mission, but old and irritable in spirit,” said Col. John Litecky, 55th Operations Group commander, who was the presiding official for the ceremony.
Tail 670, as well as the wing’s other small motor jets, are essentially the same as they were upon delivery in 1962.
“They have developed a bit of a reputation as being cranky aircraft,” Litecky said. “And in their old age they have become notorious for having a higher than normal numbers maintenance issues and just a bear to deal with.”
Despite all of that, tail 670 still flew more than 13,000 times with more than 36,500 flight hours.
“This retirement ceremony represents so much more than the aircraft,” Litecky said. “It represents the thousands of flight hours and hundreds of aviators who called this aircraft their home for weeks at a time as they flew alone overseas, unafraid. It represents hundreds of thousands of hours maintainers spent diagnosing problems and fixing problems in temperatures well over 100 degrees and at times well below zero.”
A 45th Reconnaissance Squadron aircrew will now fly the aircraft to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for placement in permanent storage at the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center there.