Through the Looking Glass: A chance to step inside Offutt history

  • Published
  • By Kristen Allen
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland is offering visitors a rare opportunity to walk through the only EC-135C Looking Glass aircraft on display anywhere in the world during its #049 Day event on April 9, 2022.

“It’s nice to be able to show people what things looked like and give people an idea of the experience of people who served, especially with some of the more rare things in the collection like Looking Glass,’’ said Andy Beemer, Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum restoration manager. “It’s nice to give people a peek behind the curtain once in a while.”

For more than 37 years, the “Doomsday Plane” was synonymous with Offutt Air Force Base, Strategic Air Command and the Cold War. SAC began the Looking Glass mission Feb. 3, 1961, and used that moniker because the aircraft’s mission was to mirror ground-based command, control and communications of the nation’s strategic nuclear forces.

“A lot of people don’t realize Looking Glass was the biggest weapon system in the Air Force at the time,” said retired Col. Merlin “Steve” Stevens, former 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing commander and restoration project volunteer. “It was an airborne command post. The battle staff could take command and control, and they also had launch capability of all the missiles after first strike.”

Dozens of museum staff members and volunteers have worked more than 32,000 hours over the last six years restoring tail number 63-8049 to its former glory after it spent more than two decades outside in Nebraska’s varied weather. The interior and exterior are nearly complete, though there is still work being done on the wings and engines.

Beemer is glad others will have the opportunity to see inside the aircraft but notes that the museum must balance its displays and events with what visitors would like versus what’s best for the relics being viewed. After this one-day public event allowing visitors to walk through the inside of the aircraft, it will be closed off to the public.

“We have to limit access to the inside of the planes because they’re historical artifacts and they need to be taken care of and preserved,” said Beemer. “Foot traffic inside the planes leads to damage and degradation, and the reason we’re here as a museum is to preserve things rather than have them get damaged.”

Many restoration volunteers once flew on the EC-135C. Beemer said they had former crew members from pretty much every section of the aircraft assist at some point during the restoration process. It was important to Stevens and others to help because of personal ties to this project.

“It’s like a part of your family, and it was your office, too,” said retired Master Sgt. Amy Walton, a former EC-135C crew member and restoration volunteer. “It was such an important part of so many people’s lives. It’s what they did every day, 24/7. It’s important to preserve this because it’s history.”

One of the things Beemer enjoys most about events like the #049 Day coming up is the chance to see and interact with the former crew members.

“It’s very gratifying from my perspective to see people happy when their plane that they flew is taken care of,” said Beemer. “From the restoration standpoint, what keeps you going is seeing people who flew the planes and giving them something back by taking care of something that took good care of them when they were in the service.”

The EC-135C Looking Glass will be open for viewing from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.  Tours will be limited to approximately 10 minutes to allow for as many guests as possible to view the aircraft. Regular museum admission applies. Reservations are not needed for this event.

Nebraska Public Media filmed a video about the Looking Glass restoration project that can be found here: