Fact Sheet Display


The RC-135S Cobra Ball is a rapidly deployable aircraft, which flies Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed missions of national priority to collect optical and electronic data on ballistic targets. This data is critical to arms treaty compliance verification, and development of U.S. strategic defense and theater missile defense concepts.

The RC-135S, equipped with a sophisticated array of optical and electronic sensors, recording media, and communications equipment, is a national asset uniquely suited to provide America's leaders and defense community with vital information that cannot be obtained by any other source.

Crew composition includes a minimum of two pilots, one navigator, three electronic warfare officers, two airborne systems engineers, and two or more airborne mission specialists.

The current RC-135S aircraft trace their lineage to C-135 aircraft originally modified in 1961 and operated in 24-hour alert status out of Shemya AFB, Alaska. In 1994, all RC-135S aircraft and operations were transferred to the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska. This action, along with many others, helped peacefully close another chapter in the history of the Cold War. Initially employed by Strategic Air Command to satisfy nationally tasked intelligence collection requirements, the RC-135S has also participated in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

All Cobra Ball airframe and mission systems modifications are overseen by L-3 Communications, under the oversight of Air Force Materiel Command.

There are three RC-135S aircraft in the Air Force inventory all assigned to Air Combat Command and permanently based at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.. The Cobra Ball is operated by the 55th Wing, and manned with aircrews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, and the 97th Intelligence Squadron, using various forward deployment locations worldwide.

General Characteristics
Primary Function: Reconnaissance
Contractor: L-3 Communications
Power Plant: Four CFM International F108-CF-201 high bypass turbofan engines
Thrust: 21,600 pounds each engine
Unrefueled Range: 3,900 miles (6,500 kilometers)
Length: 135 feet (41.1 meters)
Height: 42 feet (12.8 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 297,000 pounds (133,633 kilograms)
Wingspan: 131 feet (39.9 meters)
Speed: 500+ miles per hour (Mach.66)
Flight Crew: (minimum) Two pilots, one navigator
Mission flight crew: (minimum) - minimum consisting of three electronic warfare officers, two airborne systems engineers, and two airborne mission specialists
Unit Cost: unavailable
Date Deployed: March 1972 (CBII)
Inventory: Active force, 3; Reserve, 0; Guard, 0