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RC-135 family aircraft

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RC-135 family aircraft [r]: A group of U.S. Air Force aircraft payloads for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that share the basic KC-135 Stratotanker airframe [e]

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RC-135 family aircraft are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that share a common airframe, the KC-135 Stratotanker, an air refueling tanker derived from a commercial airliner. Some variants have been built for exceptionally specialized purposes as unique aircraft, but there are several series that are used extensively.

To increase deployment flexibility, a program is underway to be able to exchange the payloads among aircraft. The challenge here is less the internal electronics, but the antennas, and, in some cases, mounts for telescopes and other sensors that protrude through the skin and need streamlined mounts.

Among the major types are:

Many are approaching the fatigue limits of the airframe metal, and will eventually need to be replaced. They will almost certainly go into some derivative of a commercial airliner, as has the P-8 Poseidon, and the Airborne Warning and Control System for Turkey has been built into a modified Boeing 737.