Operation Looking Glass: America’s Terrifying Doomsday Plane

On Feb. 3, 1961, the United States launched Operation Looking Glass in a bid to ensure the command and control of U.S. nuclear forces in the event that ground-based command centers are destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable. The operation put a plane in the sky that was integrated with the nuclear command on the ground. This would ensure that even if the entire U.S. command was destroyed in a nuclear attack, the airborne crew would be able to coordinate a retaliatory strike. From that day forward, there has been a Looking Glass plane circling in a secret flight path over the United States. The planes used by Operation Looking Glass were originally Boeing EC-135Cs that were specifically designed to emit command and control codes to the U.S. missile systems on the ground in the event of an attack on the U.S. by the Soviet Union. With a plane in the sky at all times that could weather the beginning of a nuclear war, the crippling advantage of a preemptive nuclear strike goes down dramatically. In other words, if the other guy can still fire their nukes back at you, there's no advantage to firing first. Today, the Doomsday Plane is no longer a Cold War era EC-135 but a modified version of a Boeing 707. It’s a constant and stark reminder of the ever-present threat of nuclear war that still lingers with us to this day.
Inside the EC-135 of the Looking Glass Operation