Half of Pentagon’s four E-4B Nightwatch aircrafts – “Doomsday” planes, were knocked out by last week’s EF1 tornado.
The twister also damaged eight RC-135 reconnaissance aircrafts, which usually fly over the Middle East for critical surveillance missions. Drew Nystrom, a 55th Wing spokesman said that Seven of the RC-135’s only sustained minor damage and are still “mission-capable.”
Nystrom continues that inspectors haven’t yet determined repair costs. “55th Wing’s combat capability was not affected by the storm,” he said. “We have and will continue to meet any and all higher-headquarters requirements.”
The storm caused at least between $7 to $10 million dollars of damage at the Offutt facilities. Most however is for tree removals, heating and air-conditioning repairs, fence replacements and roof repairs. Also including manpower costs, explains Nystrom.
The tornado uprooted trees and toppled fences, it struck base housing and an Air Force golf course. The twister packed winds of up to 110 miles per hour, said National Weather Services.
EF2 – a second tornado, damaged homes and utility poles.
Brig. Gen. Reg Urschler of Bellevue, a retired former 55th Wing commander, said it was rare for an aircraft to sustain damage from storms. He had flown both mentioned aircrafts. “I can’t recall ever a situation of this magnitude,” Urschler said. “It’s unheard of.”
Base officials have declined photographs of aircrafts that were damaged while in the base hangars, during a media tour of the storm’s damage.
The RC-135 surveillance crafts are based at Offutt, but they’re often sent to bases in Japan, Qatar, Britain and Greece. They’ve been in operation since 1990.
The loss of the E-4B’s have been a critical loss as they’re vital for sensitive and crucial missions. Last year their command was moved from the 55th Wing to the new 595th command and control group, which reports to Louisiana’s Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base.
A team flew from Barksdale flew to Offutt to assess the damages. Captain Michele Rollins, a spokeswoman from the Louisiana base said, “Global Strike has people on the ground… We want to be sure they’re able to do their assessment.”
She went on to say that they’re still unsure how long repairs will take on the two damaged E-4B jets.