The first of 3 RIVET JOINT (RJ) signals intelligence aircraft has been delivered to RAF Waddington to begin a period of squadron work-up activity before entering service with the RAF in late 2014.

The aircraft will form part of project AIRSEEKER, which will provide the UK with a world class capability able to provide real time on scene intelligence, surveillance and analysis to forces in the air and on the ground.

The Boeing RC-135V/W Rivet Joint system has a proven track record, having been used by the United States Air Force for many years. Since 2011, 51 Squadron have been training and operating alongside their USAF colleagues in preparation for the UK aircraft entering service in late 2014. UK crews have already achieved in excess of 32,000 flying hours and 1800 sorties as part of the US 55th Reconnaissance Wing. The MoD has purchased three aircraft from the US which will each be configured to support UK operations. The first aircraft has successfully completed its flight trials in Greenville, Texas ahead of schedule, allowing it to be delivered to the UK early.

Lt Col James Spencer USAF who piloted the RJ flight said:

“We’ve been so excited about bringing this jet to you guys. We’ve flown through the night in some pretty overcast conditions our final approach; to see bright sunny skies, the beautiful backdrop of Lincoln and RAF Waddington airfield lined with service personnel was a fantastic sight. It’s a privilege to have the RAF as team mates in the RC-135 community.”

Air Vice-Marshal Peter Ewen, Director Air Support at Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), who are responsible for the procurement of the Rivet Joint, said:

“I am delighted that the first Rivet Joint aircraft has been delivered to the UK, an important milestone in the procurement pathway for the future AIRSEEKER signals intelligence capability for UK Defence. A testament to the ongoing and highly effective UK/ US co-operation in the procurement programme, support and RAF aircrew training, this first of 3 aircraft, will form a vital component of the nation’s future ISTAR capabilities.”

Officer Commanding 51 Squadron, Wing Commander Tom Talbot said:

“Following 3 years of training and preparation with our USAF brethren the RIVET JOINT brings with it a step change in airborne Signals Intelligence capability for the UK. This is a fantastic day for 51 Squadron and marks the start of a new era in our long and illustrious history.”

Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn, Director of Capability at Joint Forces Command, said:

“The delivery of the first of 3 Rivet Joint aircraft to the UK is a critical step in the re-establishment of a world class UK airborne signals intelligence capability. I know that the RAF and Defence are looking forward to operating this key capability and building on the unique history of 51 Squadron. We plan to have our AIRSEEKER programme comprising all 3 Rivet Joint aircraft, with their highly skilled aircrew, groundcrew and  analysts, fully operational by mid-2017.”

Squadron Leader Axel Foley 51 Squadron RAF Waddington who copiloted the RJ flight said:

“It’s been fantastic. How great to see the crowds out in force to welcome us. What you see is a culmination of years of hard work by all those involved. I am very proud to be a part of it and to have had the opportunity to fly the first UK Rivet Joint in to its home station here at RAF Waddington.”

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