A tornado ripped through Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, home of Strategic Command, last Friday during heavy weather, which resulted in two of America's four E-4B National Airborne Operations Centers being damaged.
According to sources at Global Strike Command, both of the highly modified 747-200s were pulled into hangars on the base in advance of the storm, although their tails were left sticking out as the hangars were not designed to accommodate an entire 747 (most aren't). When the F1 tornado struck, its gusts pounded on their tails, turning them into giant levers of sorts, shifting the 747s inside.
The level of damage is being evaluated by the USAF and a team from Boeing and we don't know yet how bad it is, although it likely isn't superficial considering the circumstances.
The other two E-4Bs were not at Offutt AFB, also their their home base, at the time. One was on duty somewhere while another was undergoing deep maintenance at Boeing's depot in San Antonio, Texas. So one of the aircraft is still available to perform the NAOC mission.
The E-4Bs have gone through a series of upgrades in recent years, extending their life and utility for the USAF. The aircraft are not only called upon to fly the National Command Authorities aloft during a major crisis, but they are also made available to FEMA during natural disasters to work as a central command post and communications relay platform. The E-4Bs also are used to fly the Secretary of Defense and their staff, as well as press, on overseas trips and to shadow Air Force One when the President is overseas.
According to our contacts at Global Strike Command, the E-4B's mission is not impacted at the moment as one aircraft is still available. The Navy's 16 E-6B Mercury aircraft are also capable of many of the same critical functions as the E-4B, albeit without the accommodations for a large NCA staff.
If the aircraft are very badly damaged it is uncertain if the USAF will repair them due to their old age and increasingly expensive operating cost—which was said to be a whopping $163,485 per hour in 2013—only second to the similar VC-25A, often referred to by its callsign when the President is onboard—Air Force One. Also, the USAF is now looking to replace these aircraft, with a program spooling up to do just that—a story we will post soon here on The War Zone.
Other aircraft at the base suffered damage as well, including eight of the USAF precious RC-135 fleet. Six out of the eight RC-135s affected have been returned to flight status already, but one of them is said to be badly damaged. There was also seven to ten million dollars in damage done to the base and its surrounding infrastructure.
More details as they become available.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com