Altus AFB produces mission capable boom operators
By Senior Airman Franklin R. Ramos, 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 30, 2014
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- For the past 16 years, the 97th Air Mobility Wing has been the only schoolhouse for training initial KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator students, which trains around 265 Airmen and international students a year.
Boom operators are aerial refueling specialists who conduct the offloading of fuel to U.S. Air Force and partner aircraft. They also deal with passengers, cargo, aeromedical evacuation missions and back up the pilots to ensure the safe operation of the aircraft.
Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, hosts two Boom Operator Weapon System Trainers in its KC-135 aircrew training facility. The BOWST is an inflight refueling training simulator that helps students become proficient in operating in a boom pod before they step into an actual refueling aircraft.
"I think this training is effective … to prepare our students for operating in the aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Miller, the 54th Air Refueling Squadron student training management, charlie flight superintendent. “They must complete 16 simulator missions, which is an hour a piece with pre-briefing and debriefing requirements as well."
The advantages of training in the BOWST are that instructors can select the type of aircraft to refuel and there in no physical contact to make mistakes.
"The learning process here is pretty strenuous - it's a lot of long days, longer nights and then some hard tests," said Airman 1st Class Greg Adams, a 97th Training Squadron student. "The most challenging part for me is doing something I've never done before in my life."
The students begin their training by learning aircraft systems with Canadian Aviation Electronics instructors, and then once accepted by the flying training unit instructors in a simulator check, they head toward the flightline.
"Well, the flightline portion of our students' training is five flights and a check-ride," Miller said. "This timeline is dependent on other factors like student progression, a functional aircraft and a receiver aircraft that is fully operable as well. If all goes smooth, this training usually lasts a month."
"I would say that as an instructor here at Altus, you have to be prepared for everything. This can be the student who knows everything or nothing at all, the sick students, the inexperienced pilots behind our aircraft, etc.," said Miller, an instructor boom operator for the past nine years. "The key is finding how to hit home with the students and make sure they understand what you are telling them. For some students this could be their very first time in an airplane and it certainly is their first time refueling multi-million dollar aircraft when they come to us."
Boom operators must be flexible with their schedule to ensure they are accomplishing the mission.
"Don't spend too much time goofing off, you have to get your nose in the books from the second you get here in order to be successful," Adams said. "It will be long, it will be hard, but it's going to be worth it in the end."
For Miller, he's refueled just about every type of aircraft in the Air Force inventory and emphasizes to his students just how important the job is.
"There is not a more rewarding feeling when you've refueled an F-16 (Fighting Falcon), F-15 (Eagle), F-18 (Hornet), whatever it may be, with a full load of bombs and they return to you later completely empty," Miller said. "You know that you helped protect those troops on the ground at that moment."