An Air Force safety team is investigating an onboard fire that caused the crew to evacuate a large reconnaissance jet on the Offutt Air Force Base runway Thursday evening.

The four-engine RC-135V/W Rivet Joint was just beginning its takeoff roll at 6:27 p.m. for a local training flight when crew members in the rear noticed smoke in the cabin. They notified the flight crew, who slowed the aircraft to a stop, said Delanie Stafford, a 55th Wing spokesman.

Offutt Fire & Rescue crews responded within minutes and put out the fire, Stafford said. All 27 crew members evacuated safely through a crew entry hatch. Four were treated for smoke inhalation at Nebraska Medicine-Bellevue and then released.

Flight operations at Offutt were suspended until the jet could be removed from the runway.

One other 55th Wing aircraft was airborne at the time, Stafford said. It remained in a holding pattern until the airfield reopened at 8:55 p.m.

Stafford said he didn’t know the extent of damage to the RC-135, or exactly where the fire started. It also was unclear when or if the aircraft could be repaired.

Investigators will spend several weeks on the scene collecting evidence and analyzing data, 55th Wing Vice Commander Col. Mark Williamson said in a statement.

There are currently 17 aircraft in the Rivet Joint fleet. The RC-135 aircraft date to the early 1960s and are based on the Boeing 707 airframe, reconfigured for intelligence and reconnaissance missions. Most of the RC-135V/W models were delivered between 1975 and 1981.

The Defense Department doesn’t reveal the cost of the aircraft, but Great Britain’s Royal Air Force purchased three of them for $1 billion in 2013, the magazine Aviation Week reported.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1186, steve.liewer@owh.com

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