USAF retires final OC-135B following Open Skies withdrawal

The US Air Force (USAF) formally retired the second and final Boeing OC-135B photo observation aircraft on June 4, following a ceremony at Lincoln Airport in Nebraska, which is serving as the temporary home of the 55th Wing’s 45th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS).

Prior to its retirement, OC-135B – serial 61-2670 ‘OF’ – completed its final flight with the 45th RS on May 10 and was subsequently flown from Lincoln Airport to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona, on June 9. The aircraft has now been handed over to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) for long-term storage.

Final OC-135B retirement [USAF/Offutt AFB]
The last OC-135B in service - serial 61-2670 ‘OF’ - taxies out at Lincoln Airport, Nebraska, on May 10, 2021, for its final flight before retirement. On June 4, a formal ceremony was held to mark its official removal from service. USAF/Offutt AFB

During the retirement ceremony, former 55th Wing commander turned US Representative for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep Don Bacon, said: “I want to thank all of the aircrews who flew the OC-135 mission for more than two decades and for their professionalism, safety record and for being great representatives of our country while in Russia.

“I also want to thank all of the maintainers for working on some of the oldest, most rickety aircraft we have in the entire inventory and for keeping everyone safe. And finally, I want to thank our Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) teammates, who operated the sensory equipment and provided imagery to 34 countries, many of whom depended on them greatly,” he added.

While operational, the platform had been used to conduct aerial photography over Russia and other nations as part of the 34-nation Open Skies Treaty, which was signed in 1992 and fully implemented in 2002. The type first arrived at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, in 1993 and became fully operational in 1996.

In November 2020, the then-US government withdrew from the pact, citing Russian violations of the agreement as the reason behind its departure. Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently signed a bill on June 7, 2021, which officially withdrew Russia’s involvement in the Open Skies Treaty.

Having entered operational service in 1963 as a WC-135B before being converted to an OC-135B, serial 61-2670 ‘OF’ had flown 36,664 flight hours and completed 13,451 take-offs and landings. At present, the 55th Wing’s fleet of C-135-based reconnaissance aircraft is temporarily based at Lincoln Airport, while construction work is undertaken at Offutt AFB.

There were originally three OC-135Bs, but the first – serial 61-2674 ‘OF’ – was retired from service in 1997, just one year after the platform became operational. Of the remaining two examples, the first – serial 61-2672 ‘OF’ – was withdrawn from USAF service earlier this year and handed over to the 309th AMARG on May 12, 2021.