HomeAbout UsFact SheetsDisplay

WC-135 Constant Phoenix

Throughout the afternoon, an WC-135W Constant Phoenix aircraft performs touch 'n go landing exercises Feb. 12 at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Josh Plueger)

Throughout the afternoon, an WC-135W Constant Phoenix aircraft performs touch 'n go landing exercises Feb. 12 at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Josh Plueger)

FILE PHOTO -- The WC-135W Constant Phoenix aircraft collects particulate and gaseous debris from the accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. (U.S. Air Force photo)

FILE PHOTO -- The WC-135W Constant Phoenix aircraft collects particulate and gaseous debris from the accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Mission
The WC-135W Constant Phoenix atmospheric collection aircraft supports national level consumers by collecting particulate and gaseous effluents and debris from accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Features
The aircraft is a modified C-135B or EC-135C platform. The Constant Phoenix's modifications are primarily related to its on-board atmospheric collection suite, which allows the mission crew to detect radioactive "clouds" in real time. The aircraft is equipped with external flow-through devices to collect particulates on filter paper and a compressor system for whole air samples collected in holding spheres.

The cockpit crew is from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and special equipment operators are assigned to Det. 1, Air Force Technical Applications Center at Offutt AFB.

Background
General Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned the Constant Phoenix program on Sept. 16, 1947, when he charged the Army Air Forces with the overall responsibility for detecting atomic explosions anywhere in the world. In September 1949, a WB-29 flying between Alaska and Japan detected nuclear debris from Russia's first atomic test--an event thought not possible until mid-1950.

Beginning in August 1950, WB-50 aircraft were converted for the air-sampling mission over a two-year period. WC-135 aircraft began replacing the WB-50s in December 1965 and became the workhorse of the atmospheric collection program.

Air sampling missions were routinely conducted over the Far East, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Mediterranean Sea, the Polar regions, and off the coasts of South America and Africa. The WC-135W played a major role in tracking radioactive debris from the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. 

Currently the air-sampling mission supports the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which prohibits any nation from above ground nuclear weapons testing.  WC-135s are currently the only aircraft in the inventory conducting air-sampling operations.

General Characteristics
Primary function: Air sampling and collection operations
Contractor: Boeing Aerospace Co.
Power Plant: WC-135C, Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-P9 turbofans without thrust reversers;
WC-135W, Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-5 turbofans with thrust reversers
Thrust: 16,050 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 130 feet, 10 inches  (39.8 meters)
Length: 139 feet, 11 inches  (42.5 meter)
Height: 42 feet (12.8 meters)
Weight: 120,170 pounds (54,508 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 300,500 pounds (136,304 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 130,000 pounds (58,967 kilograms)
Speed: 403 miles per hour (350 knots)
Ceiling: 40,000 feet  (12,192 feet)
Range: 4,000 nautical miles 
Crew: Varies with mission
Unit Cost: unavailable
Initial operating capability: December 1965 
Inventory: Active force, 2; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0

Engage

Facebook Twitter
Sleep tight. We work nights. A1C Donald Edwards, crew chief, inspects a C-17A Globemaster III at Joint Base Charl… https://t.co/pawAK7TUn7
RT @SecAFOfficial: Appreciate your leadership & time spent with our #Airmen who stand the watch! https://t.co/IAV7nIZCcX
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: A @usairforce HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from the 56th Rescue Squadron flies over #Aviano AB, Italy, Feb. 12. The 56th in…
Congratulations to Col. Terrence Adams who was recognized with the Military Service Award at the 34th Black Enginee… https://t.co/HYj7JhZfDg
RT @USAF_ACC: Happy #WarthogWednesday from the @A10DemoTeam 🐗🤙 #USAF 🎥 by Tech Sgt. Eric Flores | @usairforce | #AimHigh https://t.co/Zeq6…
RT @US_TRANSCOM: The @USAirForce air refueling fleet is the backbone of rapid U.S. global operations. “Tankers” are the lifeblood of our Jo…
The 332nd explosive ordinance team safely verified that a suspicious package was not a threat to any Airmen or faci… https://t.co/DJrFBsoz9F
RT @AETCommand: #PilotTraining - 2nd Lt. Joshua Harms preflights a T-38C Talon prior to a training sortie Feb. 11, 2020 at Vance AFB, Okla.…
RT @US_Stratcom: #DYK becoming a @usairforce #B2 pilot is a highly selective process? Regardless of the type of mission, those who fly the…
Airmen from the Ohio @AirNatlGuard, 180th Fighter Wing, are participating in exercise Green Flag-West at @NellisAFBhttps://t.co/5q6MEi4uew
These Airmen are making sure the F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 480th Fighter Squadron are ready for each day train… https://t.co/LOAxoraDX8
RT @SecAFOfficial: Spent time with the men & women of Incirlik Air Base @39_ABW, Turkey 🇹🇷, to thank them for their dedication, service, &…
RT @AirNatlGuard: Training and repetition is key to being #AlwaysReady Exercises like #SouthernStrike2020 allow our Airmen to work with tot…
Over 100 aircraft are flying over the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Federated States of Micr… https://t.co/XwsxbIXET9
RT @PACAF: Gen. CQ Brown Jr. met w/ allies & partners from across the Indo-Pacific & beyond @SGAirshow to showcase U.S. commitment & discus…
Good luck to all the drivers in today's #Daytona500, but we may be a bit biased on who we want to win it all.… https://t.co/PDLqBdl39X
Thanks for a great game @LAKings and @Avalanche. #ICYMI the @NHL Stadium series made a stop at the @AF_academy las… https://t.co/VyNsvpQM6o
RT @Creech_AFB: Singapore Airshow has been flying by (🥁-tss) meeting with international friends & partners! Repub. of Singapore Air Force…
Our own TSgt Nalani Quintello, vocalist with @USAFBand Max Impact, will perform the National Anthem prior to the 62… https://t.co/Asf5dTlXU8
RT @SecAFOfficial: Valuable hands-on experience @RAFMildenhall! Grateful to meet innovative #Airmen executing complex missions around the w…