3 February 1961 – Looking Glass (or Operation Looking Glass) is the code name for an airborne command and control center operated by the United States. In more recent years it has been more officially referred to as the ABNCP (Airborne Command Post).
The Strategic Air Command began the Looking Glass mission on February 3, 1961, using five specially modified KC-135A aircraft from the 34th Air Refueling Squadron based at its headquarters at Offutt AFB, backed up by aircraft flying with the Second Air Force / 913th Air Refueling Squadron at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, Eighth Air Force/99th Air Refueling Squadron at Westover AFB, Massachusetts, and Fifteenth Air Force/22d Air Refueling Squadron, March AFB, California.
Operation Looking Glass provides command and control of U.S. nuclear forces in the event that ground-based command centers have been destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable. In such an event, the general officer aboard the Looking Glass serves as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO) and by law assumes the authority of the National Command Authority and could command execution of nuclear attacks. The AEAO is supported by a battle staff of approximately 20 people, with another dozen responsible for the operation of the aircraft systems. The name Looking Glass, which is another name for a mirror, was chosen for the Airborne Command Post because the mission operates in parallel with the underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base. The Looking Glass was also designed to help ensure COG, continuity, and reconstitution of the US government in the event of a nuclear attack on North America.
EC-135 Looking Glass aircraft were airborne 24 hours a day for over 29 years, until July 24, 1990, when “The Glass” ceased continuous airborne alert, but remained on ground or airborne alert 24 hours a day.
In recent years “Looking Glass” has been more officially referred to as the ABNCP (Airborne Command Post).
There was some speculation that the “mystery plane” seen flying over the White House on September 11, 2001, was a Looking Glass aircraft. However, as indicated by retired Major General Donald Shepperd, speaking on CNN on September 12, 2007, the plane circling the White House on 9/11 resembled an E-4B which was likely launched from Nightwatch ground alert at Andrews Air Force Base.