An American aircraft designed to ‘sniff’ radioactivity associated with the use of nuclear weapons has arrived in the United Kingdom.

The aircraft landed at RAF Mildenhall this morning and is a rare visitor to the United Kingdom.

Previously, 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 aircraft doesn’t usually stay in a region for too long before heading back to the United States. As said above, this is a rare deployment and the last visit of such an aircraft to the UK was August last year.

More notably, back in 2017 an aircraft was deployed to RAF Mildenhall to conduct missions over Europe after air quality stations across the continent detected traces of radioactive Iodine-131.

Historically, the WC-135W fleet played a major role in tracking radioactive debris from the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.

What is the WC-135W?

The WC-135 ‘Constant Phoenix’ is U.S. Air Force a special-purpose aircraft derived from the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter (as also with the RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’ signals intelligence aircraft used by the Royal Air Force).

According to the U.S. Air Force, its mission is to collect samples from the atmosphere for the purpose of detecting and identifying nuclear explosions.

According to military.com here, the Constant Phoenix has an 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.

George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. He also works for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 months ago

Fascinating. The existence of this variant of the 135 family escaped me.

Seems sensible.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 months ago

Sensible and at the same time terrifying. As others have said it may be to do with the Ukrainian power plants. Or it may be to do with a false flag suitcase device – like to see the guy who could pick it up – hint: only olympic weightlifters need to apply. But could certainly put it in a car boot. I don’t think Putin cares about world opinion. But he will want to make sure that he saves his own neck for his retirement. I shudder to think how useless NATO has been given the warning signs from Crimea… Read more »

Francis
Francis
6 months ago

Wiki suggests a 53kg weight for suitcase nuke? Very easy to carry with a decent level of fitness or military training.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 months ago
Reply to  Francis

It is a fair bit more than that for a nuclear explosion as opposed to a dirty device.

If you want a Goldfinger style cobalt iodine mess than 53kg might do it with no shielding.

bob
bob
6 months ago

The RAF when they had VC 10s were able to carry sniffer pods and do so when needed.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 months ago
Reply to  bob

It depends if you are collecting air samples for later ground analysis or doing dynamic analysis in the air.

George
George
6 months ago

Hi folks hope all is well.
Interesting, I suppose this is in preparation that small tactical nuclear devices are used in the current situation with Ukraine.
What do you think.
Cheers,
George

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 months ago
Reply to  George

That was my thought George.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
6 months ago
Reply to  George

Hi George, Like Daniele that was my first thought as well. It’s quite chilling really. Like many on here I grew up under the shadow of the mushroom cloud and, I like many, had hoped that the risks of nuclear war had receded, if not entirely disappeared, for good. The last 10 years have put that idea to rest, sadly, and Putin’s actions in and around Ukraine are rapidly taking us back to the 1970’s early 80’s. I lived in South Bucks back then and remember sitting outside the Apprentice training centre looking at the hill opposite wondering if the… Read more »

Tomartyr
Tomartyr
6 months ago
Reply to  George

Or, given that Chernobyl is on the border of Belarus north of Kyiv, they may worry the fighting might disturb the fuel remaining in reactor 4.

Although apparently the remaining fuel started to ‘smoulder’ last year, so it’s possible this is unrelated to the crisis.

Paul.P
Paul.P
6 months ago
Reply to  Tomartyr

Oops. Apologies for duplicating your post. I agree.

Chris
Chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Tomartyr

That’s an interesting hypothesis. A similar thought crossed my mind this morning (sans WC-135W) when I read the article reported by Sky news that highlighted that the quickest route to Kyiv (apparently that’s how you spell it now) is via the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

I hope that it’s not for the more obvious reasons (as suggested in comments here) and more as a result of any disturbance of the ground in that area. Not that either option really bears much thinking about…..

https://news.sky.com/story/russia-ukraine-tensions-moscow-once-gave-the-order-to-clear-chernobyl-exclusion-zone-now-kyiv-hopes-it-wont-be-used-to-invade-12529104

bob
bob
6 months ago
Reply to  George

The use of the WC 135 is to detect what the contents of any nuclear release is containing, such as Strontium, Cobalt etc. DSP satellites will instantly determine any nuclear bursts.

Paul.P
Paul.P
6 months ago
Reply to  George

More likely to detect any Chernobyl dust thrown up by any conflict in the area north of Kiev near the border with Belorus.

Watcherzero
Watcherzero
6 months ago

Doesnt just detect the fallout from nuclear explosions, also identifies the trace emission from nuclear reactors and enrichment plants allowing you to identify hidden undeclared nuclear weapons facilities. After a nuclear explosion there are identifiable isotope signatures that tell you where the raw material was mined and who processed it into a weapon.

John
John
6 months ago

With the increased threats, will UK defence receive additional funding such for the reversal of troop cuts, increase the availability of combat aircraft and ships?

Jack K
Jack K
6 months ago
Reply to  John

That would be nice, but I think we all know what the answer will be.

Bill Masen
Bill Masen
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack K

And the fact that far fewer young people want to join the forces these days. I’m from an army family, I served as did my father, uncles , grandfathers etc. But we would not let our children join up in any of the services.

Jonno
Jonno
6 months ago
Reply to  Bill Masen

Interesting. Why not?

Johan
Johan
6 months ago
Reply to  Jonno

Try telling a Milllenial what to do is the answer, they all have degrees in wasting time at university now, rather than Art College.

Jon
Jon
6 months ago
Reply to  Jonno

I can’t answer for Bill, but I’d feel the same way. Every time the government fires a load of servicemen due to cuts, they are telling prospective employees their job security is a joke and HMG doesn’t value people they expect to risk their lives for their country.

I’ve never served, but I value those who have far more than I value HMG.

Jack
Jack
6 months ago
Reply to  Jonno

If the country doesn’t respect or value you….

Bill Masen
Bill Masen
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack

Nailed it in one, the state treats the military as disposable pawns, and the military covenant is worthless. I have hear that from veterans, serrving soldiers / marines and their families.

Bill Masen
Bill Masen
6 months ago
Reply to  Jonno

Among many things discussed by our veterans group like the defence cuts from 1990 onwards, to the total and utter betrayal of veterans who are still being persecuted for their military service over 50 years ago right up to the A/stan conflict. To the letters to wanted IRA members letting escape justice, to engaging in illegal wars in Iraq. Even issues like the changes to regimental structure, non stop defence cuts and countless other issues. And some of the younger parents are not at all impressed with the wokery and political correctness being implimented. My own personal gripe is the… Read more »

Johan
Johan
6 months ago
Reply to  John

You Are aware the proposed troop cuts are on Paper, as the numbers are currently not where they should be, Army is not seen as a attractive Service option

Geordie
Geordie
6 months ago

What would are response be if putin
used tactical nuke

Meirion x
Meirion x
6 months ago
Reply to  Geordie

See the Nuclear Posture Review 2018.
The US developed low yield Nukes to counter this tactic.

David Steeper
David Steeper
6 months ago

I don’t think we need to be worried about WW3. There are 4 nuclear powerplants in Ukraine. It seems sensible to be prepared in case one or more take collateral damage in the event of war

Levi Goldsteinberg
Levi Goldsteinberg
6 months ago

Those nacelles look ancient, how old are the engines?

shoreline
shoreline
6 months ago

They look like TF33 engines, which are closely based on the JT3D, which has been out of production since 1985. Same engines as on B52 bombers — but those engines are now contracted to be replaced by the Rolls Royce F130, based on their BR700 long-range business jet engine.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
6 months ago

They are probably the TF33 engines. Same as on the b-52h and some similar C-135 type aircraft. Most if not all KC-135 have newer engines now. CF-56 I think but my memory could be playing tricks on me.
They could also be to sniff Russia’s nuclear powered missile testing up north. Again I forget the name of it. Or practice deployment etc. These aircraft don’t often stay for long in one place

Mark Franks
Mark Franks
6 months ago

It’s a little known fact that 3 of our K3 VC10s could be kitted out for the same missions. What has replaced them in this roll I haven’t a clue.
The WC135 W are being replaced I hear by 3 KC135S pulled from the bone yard.

MikeB1947
MikeB1947
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark Franks

So little known that the whole project was undoubtedly cancelled before the first VC-10 K3 was even decommissioned. Probably the Americans informed the MoD that such development was already at an advanced stage by them and therefore a UK project was not required.

Mark franks
Mark franks
6 months ago
Reply to  MikeB1947

It existed, I flew missions on the K3 ,the last out of Kadina airbase when North Korea let one off in 2006.
They were known as secondary roll atmospheric sampling, very British but nuke sniffers in American parlance.

MikeB1947
MikeB1947
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark franks

Thanks. I was not aware of the fact. No doubt, when the VC-10s were taken out of service it was decided there was no further requirement for secondary atmospheric sampling. Otherwise, there would have been a plan to similarly equip a Voyager

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago

Slightly off topic, but this article I read the other week aligns itself with the subject of surveillance on the other side of the world: (Note, the scans will self-delete after a week) 

Last edited 6 months ago by Farouk
Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

1)comment image

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

2)comment image

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

3)comment image

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

4)comment image

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

5)comment image

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

6)comment image

Farouk
Farouk
6 months ago
Reply to  Farouk

7)comment image
as stated these will self delete

dan
dan
6 months ago

Since Germany leads the EU they will bow down to Putin like they have always done.

Matt
Matt
6 months ago

Global Backgrounds. Enriching uranium creates elevated levels of gases like radon. That aircraft can detect that, and therefore determine who is trying to create weapons grade uranium. So whenever Iran denies it, we can reasonably call BS.

Paul.P
Paul.P
6 months ago

The Boeing 707 has never really been beaten for looks. Lovely paint job.

Valeria Moore
Valeria Moore
6 months ago

Cool to see the old aircraft that I used to work on when I was in the military back in 1986. Spent many hours as a jet engine mechanic on 667.