1. Ops Tempo/Deployment:
Varies by RC-135 model. For RIVET JOINT (RC-135V/W), you can expect 1 or 2 deployments per year as a line flyer. Desert trips go for 90 days and every other trip (EUCOM/PACOM/SOUTHCOM/etc) traditionally goes for 60 days. Between that, there are plenty of opportunities for Nellis trips supporting RF/WIC/other exercises. Everything is pretty well planned out for the following FY so there are few surprises as to when you will be hitting the road. Things have slowed down over the past couple years compared to the near 1/1 dwell that the community was sustaining circa 2010. It used to be that younger dudes could bank on a few trips to the desert before getting to see other COCOMs, but that is not at all the case anymore. A lot of dudes will go a few trips before ever putting on a tan flight suit.
For COBRA BALL (RC-135S), things are significantly more dynamic depending on what is going on across the world. I would have to check with some 45th bros for some current data, but it is not that uncommon for these dudes to still be on the road for 4-5 (or more) months a year for various durations. Not uncommon for these dudes to be on a 1/1 dwell still.
For COMBAT SENT (RC-135U), their deployments are pretty well scripted but can still expect to be on the road for upwards of 4-5 months out of the year. Similar to the BALL, depending on the crew position (pilot/nav vs EWO), these dudes can be close to a 1/1 dwell.
2. Lifestyle/ Family Stability
Depends on the squadron. 343d/38th dudes (RJ) have a pretty steady family life as they can typically plan things out better in the future. 45th dudes (CB/CB) seem to be more of the road warriors over the past few years and it takes it's toll as one would imagine. While you are at home, things are pretty vanilla. Standard business hours for the most part and very few weekends at the office. Omaha is actually a great town to raise a family in and there are more things to do than you would think. Chicago and Denver are both an 8 hour drive away and easy to get to for a long weekend if you want to get somewhere more metropolitan.
3. Community morale
Totally varies as with other airframes. With all things RC-135, the community is huge and it's easy to get lost in the mix. Timing plays a huge factor in this and you usually see the unlucky dudes that have multiple consecutive desert trips hating life whereas dudes that have trips to the more tropical locations with a more positive outlook. There are not as many command opportunities in the 55 WG as other MDSs just given the few operating locations but x-flow to other heavy C2ISR platforms have been more common over the past 5 years. For 11Rs, you can expect that Offutt will keep you as long as possible as we are starting to see shortages in ACs. 12Rs have a little better luck with getting a staff release after you have met your O-4 board. The next few years look like they might get weird as we are prog'd to get significantly less from UPT/UCT resulting in the potential for slower upgrades and more time on the road. Everyone is kinda holding their breath to see how this all buffs out.
4. Advancements & Future of the airframe
Even though the fleet is made up of '62 & '64 model -135s, they are all fairly modern on the inside. As Joe $hithead gets new toys, we upgrade our systems to match. The jets typically go to depot on a 3 year cycle for complete overhauls to keep them as technologically relevant as possible.
Talks are starting to heat up about recapitalization of the capabilities on a different airframe. I have heard everything from a business jet to a 737 airframe to "what if ISR wasn't on an air-breathing asset." Personally, I would not expect to see manned ISR go away any time in the next 30-40 years simply from a foreign policy power projection standpoint. I think that once the E-8/EC-130 finally get recapitalized, we will be quick to follow suit. The nice thing is that we get BIG SAFARI to do our acquisitions, so I would expect the timeframe to be significantly quicker than other platforms.
5. Preferred PCS locations
-Offutt. And more Offutt. The norm seems for dudes to do 6-9 years in Omaha before they can finally leave, but all roads will eventually lead back to Offutt... Not necessarily a bad thing since the Bellevue/Omaha area is a pleasant surprise, but there are not a lot of PCS opportunities to locations with permanent staff outside of Nebraska. We have squadrons at Kadena and Mildenhall, but they are only manned with ~10 permanent party flyers. A smaller number of dudes will get the chance to PCS to Souda Bay or to the depot at Greenville, TX but they are the exception rather than the rule.