On April 30, 2015, RC-135V Rivet Joint, 64-14848, belonging to the 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron, 55th Wing, suffered a major incident at Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska.
As the aircraft, using radio call sign “Snoop 71,” began the takeoff roll to start its mission in support of a special-operations training exercise, fire erupted behind the galley.
Described by one crew member as a “flamethrower,” the fire quickly filled the intelligence-gathering plane with dense smoke and burned a hole in the aft fuselage.
The aircraft commander (on his first flight, no less) quickly stopped the airplane, and the crew egressed as fire fighters extinguished the blaze.
Total damage to the Rivet Joint: $62.4 million.
Robert Hopkins, III, a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models in the 1980s and 1990s and is an author of a book on the type, told The Aviationist that the plane very likely would have crashed if it became airborne; the quick reaction by the “baby aircraft commander” made a successful evacuation possible in less than half a minute since the pilot decided to abort takeoff.
“But if we took off — I mean, I don’t know how fast we could have emergency landed I mean — I know it’s quick but a few more minutes stuck on the jet not even able to start egressing would have, ya know, made it a lot different. So I feel really lucky that we didn’t take off, honestly.
I’m also really glad that, like, no one got seriously injured,” a crew member told to investigators, according to the 1,341-page report on the mishap obtained by and made available here.
Investigators were unable to determine the fire’s ignition source but found that it was fanned by a faulty oxygen system that had been improperly serviced during the airplane’s last depot maintenance by L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas.
The final report noted that L-3’s quality control failed to follow established procedures, and that L-3 installed used instead of new parts. Fleet-wide inspections are underway.
(David Cenciotti, The Aviationist - Business Insider)