There was great excitement at RAF Waddington recently as No 51 Squadron took delivery of their third and final RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft.

The arrival of this aircraft – RJ 20, which will be registered as ZZ666, from the Big Safari Programme in the USA marks the completion of the RAF’s Rivet Joint fleet some 9 months ahead of schedule. Selected as the UK’s airborne Electronic Surveillance aircraft as part of the Airseeker capability, the Rivet Joint has proven itself in the service of the USAF for a number of years.
Air Officer Commanding No 1 Gp, AVM Mayhew was on the Station to welcome the aircraft and delivery crew, alongside the Station Commander, 51 Squadron personnel, DE&S staff and partners from industry, both UK and US associated with the Project.

The aircraft was flown in by a mixture of RAF and USAF personnel from the 645th AESS, based in Greenville Texas, the aircraft arrived to a very warm welcome – despite a persistently blustery wind that could not blow away the satisfaction of seeing this latest addition to 51 Squadron.
Officer Commanding 51 Squadron Wing Commander Simon Cloke, was amongst the delivery crew and, on touching down at Waddington, said: “The delivery of RJ20, the third and final of our three Rivet Joint aircraft, is a proud and significant moment in the history of Number 51 Sqn, coming hot on the heels of our Centenary just over one year ago.

Recognised as a hugely capable reconnaissance asset, the Rivet Joint brings battle winning capability to the RAF’s ISTAR Force.  But, without people, the aircraft is nothing and I am indebted to my personnel – air, engineering and support elements for the professionalism and unstinting support they and their families demonstrate on a daily basis.
“We now look forward to bringing ZZ666 into service, further developing our strong relationship with the USAF and continuing to deliver the world class intelligence that has become synonymous with Number 51 Squadron.

The Squadron generated a number of events to mark this auspicious occasion including a reception lunch and social afternoon where they welcomed guests from across the Station and supporting units and the USAF.

Some unique Squadron history was brought up to date thanks to the generosity of the RAF Linguists Association.Three of their members, including two former 51 Squadron Master Aircrew were on hand to present three “silver” teapots, each engraved with a Rivet Joint tail number – ZZ664, ZZ665 and ZZ666.

Anyone who has been associated with a multi-person crew aircraft will know the importance of a regular tea supply to operational crews!
The Station Commander, with great enthusiasm and a remarkably deft hand poured the inaugural brews for George, Andy and Roger from the Association, much to the delight of the watching and critical engineers! ZZ666 will now join the first two aircraft; “64” which entered service in May 2014 and “65” that followed in September 2015. Initially 51 Squadron ground crews will undertake a period of work and documentation procedures while the air crews get ready to fly the aircraft on operations.
Indeed, 51 Squadron have delivered on operations for some considerable time now, both with their own aircraft and as part of the Cooperative Manning Memorandum of Understanding with the USAF. This continues a rich vein of operational heritage for the Squadron, which celebrated its Centenary in May last year, having been founded during WWI and seen service through WWII and the Cold War, in addition to many other global conflicts.
Completion of the Squadron’s fleet with the delivery of ZZ666 ensures that the crews and support elements of 51 Squadron and the UK Rivet
Joint Force Element will continue to contribute to UK Defence for many years to come.

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