All Things Aviation
EC-135C 1/100 Scale: 1/100 scale model Wing Span: 16.5 inches Length: 10 inches The Boeing EC-135 was a command and control version of the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter. During the Cold War, the EC-135 was best known for being modified to perform the Looking Glass mission where one EC-135 was always airborne 24 hours a day to serve as flying command post for the Strategic Air Command in the event of nuclear war. Various other EC-135 aircraft sat on airborne and ground alert throughout the Cold War, with the last EC-135C being retired in 1998. The EC-135N variant served as a tracking aircraft for the Apollo program. Missions Looking Glass EC-135C Looking Glass with Pacer Link modification Gen. Richard A. Ellis, CINCSAC, in battle staff compartment Officially known as "Operation Looking Glass", at least 11 EC-135C command post aircraft were provided to the Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), and were based at various locations throughout the United States and worldwide. Operations began in 1961 with the 34th Air Refueling Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, initially using EC-135As (converted from KC-135As) until the dedicated EC-135Cs entered service in 1963 and 1964. The EC-135Cs were converted from the 17 new build KC-135Bs that were accepted by SAC but never entered squadron service as tankers. Other Offutt-based units included the 38th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (1966–1970), the 2d Airborne Command and Control Squadron (1970–1994), and the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (1994–1998). Other units operating the Looking Glass mission included the following: 913th Air Refueling Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (1963–1970) 3d Airborne Command & Control Squadron at Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana (1970–1974) 4th Airborne Command & Control Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota (1970–1991) 99th Air Refueling Squadron, Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts (1963–1970) Other EC-135 aircraft (including EC-135A, G, and L models) supporting the Looking Glass missions (communications relay and Minuteman airborne launch control centers) were flown by the 906th Air Refueling Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota (1963–1970)1, the 70th Air Refueling Squadron at Grissom AFB (1975–1993), and the 301st Air Refueling Squadron at Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio (1963–1970). All aircraft have been retired or repurposed. The United States nuclear strategy depends on its ability to command, control, and communicate with its nuclear forces under all conditions. An essential element of that ability is Looking Glass; its crew and staff ensure there is always an aircraft ready to direct bombers and missiles from the air should ground-based command centers be destroyed or rendered inoperable. Looking Glass is intended to guarantee that U.S. strategic forces will act only in the manner dictated by the President. It took the nickname "Looking Glass" because the mission mirrored ground-based command, control, and communications centers. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) began the Looking Glass mission on February 3, 1961 and Looking Glass aircraft were continuously airborne 24 hours a day for over 29 years, accumulating more than 281,000 accident-free flying hours. On July 24, 1990, "The Glass" ceased continuous airborne alert, but remained on ground or airborne alert 24 hours a day. The EC-135A flew the Command Post mission until EC-135C were delivered starting in 1963. The aircraft were delivered to Offutt AFB and as well as one aircraft to each of the Stateside Numbered Air Force Headquarters – Second Air Force at Barksdale AFB, LA; Eighth Air Force at Westover AFB, MA; and Fifteenth Air Force at March AFB CA. EC-135s flew all the missions except one, on March 4, 1980, when an E-4B was tested on an operational mission, flying a double sortie as the replacement aircraft could not launch due to weather. About a week after the flight, Washington deleted the funds for additional E-4 aircraft. On June 1, 1992, SAC was inactivated and replaced by the United States Strategic Command, which now controls the Looking Glass. On October 1, 1998, the Navy's E-6 Mercury TACAMO replaced the USAF's EC-135C in the Looking Glass mission. One former Looking Glass aircraft remains in service as a WC-135C Constant Phoenix.