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Venerable RJ hits 50,000 flying hours

Deployed members of the 55th Wing pose for a celebratory photo following their Rivet Joint aircraft surpassing the 50,000 flying-hour mark.

Deployed members of the 55th Wing pose for a celebratory photo following their Rivet Joint aircraft surpassing the 50,000 flying-hour mark.

Brig. Gen. Charlie Lyon, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, boards an aircraft March 12 at a Southwest Asia air base. The general and Capt Kareem Haskett, 379th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron will pilot aircraft that has logged 50,000 hours flight time. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Johnny L. Saldivar)

Brig. Gen. Charlie Lyon, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, boards an aircraft March 12 at a Southwest Asia air base. The general and Capt Kareem Haskett, 379th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron will pilot aircraft that has logged 50,000 hours flight time. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Johnny L. Saldivar)

Senior Airman Joshua Sexton, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, communicates with aircraft pilot at a Southwest Asia air base March 12. Airman Sexton is the eyes and ears for the outside of the aircraft while pilots perform pre-flight checks. He is from Springfield, IL deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, NE. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Johnny L. Saldivar)

Senior Airman Joshua Sexton, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, communicates with aircraft pilot at a Southwest Asia air base March 12. Airman Sexton is the eyes and ears for the outside of the aircraft while pilots perform pre-flight checks. He is from Springfield, IL deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, NE. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Johnny L. Saldivar)

Airman 1st Class Dock Caudhill and Staff Sgt. Casey M. Bode, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, standby for aircraft to taxi at a Southwest Asia air base March 12. Airman Caudhill and Sergeant Casey ensure aircraft has proper wing clearance from any obstructions before departing parking spot.  Airman Caudhill is from Eugene, OR and Sergeant Casey is from Petersburg, NE.  Both deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, NE. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Johnny L. Saldivar)

Airman 1st Class Dock Caudhill and Staff Sgt. Casey M. Bode, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, standby for aircraft to taxi at a Southwest Asia air base March 12. Airman Caudhill and Sergeant Casey ensure aircraft has proper wing clearance from any obstructions before departing parking spot. Airman Caudhill is from Eugene, OR and Sergeant Casey is from Petersburg, NE. Both deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, NE. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Johnny L. Saldivar)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron RC-135 Rivet Joint surpassed the 50,000 flight-hour mark during a mission supporting Operation Enduring Freedom March 12.

RC-135 Tail No. 132 boasts an impressive resume of tours over the years including Vietnam, operations Southern and Northern Watch to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is the first RC-135 Rivet Joint and first of any C-135 airframe to reach this significant flying milestone," said Lt. Col. William Jensen, the 763rd ERS commander.

"This airframe and others like it maintain a constant presence around the globe; in the pacific, the Southern Hemisphere, Europe and Southwest Asia, the Rivet Joint maintainers, aviators, intelligence analysts and other specialists have done a terrific job keeping the mission going," said Brig. Gen. Charles W. Lyon, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

The RC-135 maintains that global presence while the fleet continues to age. Aircraft 62-4132 has been flying since 1962 and is No. 13 of the 14 original Rivet Joints in the inventory.

"We celebrate this milestone as we look forward to recapitalization so we can continue to provide this critical capability for America in the future," General Lyon said.

Although the RC-135 has been in service for 46 years and has been continuously deployed since 1990, it has been modified and upgraded with the latest technology and engineering advancements.

"The aircraft are meticulously maintained as a low density-high demand asset whose mission is always at the forefront of national security implications," said Colonel Jensen, who is deployed here from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

"As we mark this occasion we must remember the men and women of the "Fightin' 55th," at Offutt AFB led by Brig. Gen. James Jones, the 55th Wing commander," the general said. "He and the Airmen at Offutt have the awesome responsibility of globally managing the forward deployments for this critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset. My hat is off to the entire 55th Wing team for reaching this tremendous milestone we celebrate today in (the U.S. Central Command) area of responsibility."

One of the most challenging aspects of that responsibility is maintaining the aircraft. According to the crew, hard work, sound maintenance procedures and continuous process improvement have allowed the Air Force to eke out every hour possible from this aging platform.

"The Air Force has done a superior job of providing the parts, maintenance and improvements needed for an aircraft of this age," Colonel Jensen said. "As a result, the maintainers, aircrew and mission crew are in constant coordination on the status, state of repair and capability of the platform."

The crew said the constant upkeep isn't easy.
"(The RC-135) is still flying, and still flying well, but a lot of hard work goes into 50,000 flying hours," said Senior Airman Josh Sexton, a 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief.

"The Rivet Joint provides persistence surveillance missions -- every day, real-time, actionable intelligence that is a crucial part of integrating and synchronizing our joint air and ground team," said General Lyon. "We've had many successes in the war on terrorism, many of which aren't publicized. The folks that fly, operate and maintain the Rivet Joint are quiet, professional warriors who are making a difference every day."