US Navy E-6B Mercury 162784 arrived at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk on October 19 for what is nowadays an uncommon visit to the UK. The aircraft is operated by Strategic Communications Wing ONE (SCW-1) from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
The Mercury is presumed to have been in Europe to support United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) exercises. It was photographed departing Mildenhall on October 22 by AFM contributor Gary Chadwick, the aircraft using the callsign ‘Envy 31’.
E-6B aircraft normally stand alert at locations across the US, ready to launch at a moment’s notice to relay messages from the National Command Authority (the President and Secretary of Defense) in the event that ground-based control becomes inoperable. It is a mission conducted under the acronym TACAMO — Take Charge And Move Out.
The aircraft and personnel fall under the administrative command of SCW-1. They also belong to Task Force ONE TWO FOUR (TF-124), an operational command responsible to Commander, USSTRATCOM.
Home-based at Tinker, two Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadrons (VQ) fulfil the TACAMO mission: the ‘Ironmen’ of VQ-3 and the ‘Shadows’ of VQ-4. Each squadron has over 500 personnel and operates eight aircraft and 11 crews. The E-6B fleet flies a total of 12,000 hours annually.
A third squadron flying the E-6B from Tinker AFB is VQ-7 ‘Roughnecks’. As the E-6 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), they are responsible for training all of the US Navy aircrew for the TACAMO mission.