According to the U.S. Air Force, the Rivet Joint is able to “detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum” using a variety of sensors. Its crew is made up of up to 30 people, depending on mission requirements, meaning the pilots, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators, and in-flight maintenance technicians.
Despite being very discreet, the Rivet Joint took part in absolutely “every sizable armed conflict” the U.S. was involved in since the 1960s, including Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Iraq wars, and so on.
The plane can fly for as much as 3,900 miles (6,500 km) at altitudes that can reach 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Presently, there are just 17 of them in active service with the U.S. Air Force. All of them are deployed with the Air Combat Command and, when not flying out of forward operating locations, based at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
The RC-135 we have here was captured in the main photo of this piece, just released by the U.S. Air Force while refueling from a KC-135R Stratotanker. Assigned to the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, this Rivet Joint was flying in support of the Resolute mission over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in Afghanistan back in May.