Boom Operators: Fueling the fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Victoria Nelson
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

Staff Sgt. Sam J. Mason, a boom operator assigned to the 133rd Air Refueling Squadron, shares his perspective as a key player in the 157th ARW refueling mission.

How long have you been in the Air Force?  I was active duty for six years, until March, then I started here in the Guard in April of this year.


Were you a boom operator the entire time? No, I’ve been a boom operator for about a year and a half. Before that, I worked in the Air Force Honor Guard in Washington, D.C.


How long is boom operator training? We spent about a month and a half in Texas, then another three or four months in Altus, before returning to our home stations for two to three more months of flying with an instructor.

What is involved in the home station training? Flying with an instructor and getting qualified and proficient on different receiver aircraft. We need to get signed off on fighter receiver aircraft, heavy receiver aircraft, as well as night and day contacts.


What was the most difficult part of the training for you? I would say the first time flying a mission at night. It was really hard not to fly the boom away from the airplane. We have to keep the boom at 30 degrees elevation for the receiver aircraft as a visual cue. At night you lose all your depth perception and it is hard to tell how far away the boom is from the receiver aircraft.  I instinctively wanted to pull the boom away so I wouldn’t hit the aircraft. I had to learn to rely on the shadows to gauge depth and how close the boom was to the receiver.


What made you want to be a boom operator? When my tour ended with the Honor Guard, I had a short list of jobs to re-train into and boom operator was on that list.  There was another boom operator in my squadron, who operated on a KC-10, who I spoke to. He described the job to me and it sounded fun, like something I could see myself doing.

We get to do something different every day. One day, I could be flying over Texas, and the next New Finland. That’s what’s exciting to me. 


Have you ever had an “aha” moment that kind of reinforced your decision to become a boom operator? Deployments. Being up in the air and offloading fuel to fighters and other aircraft so they can protect our troops.


What’s the most challenging part of your job?  Probably staying proficient in the knowledge of the aircraft.  The hands on part comes easy, but knowing the aircraft inside and out is and ongoing learning process every day. There are a lot of technical orders and military publications we need to study regularly.


What has been your most memorable mission?  Alaska TDY. We were dragging fighters overseas from Anchorage when we got stuck in Alaska for 2 weeks. We took off from Anchorage because they were shutting down their runway and our landing gear wouldn’t come up. This caused us to fly through a bunch of icing and damaged all four engines.  Watching the ice buildup on the windshield and wings was not a good sights to see.  We landed in Fairbanks and were broke for 2 weeks waiting on parts and crew chiefs that had to be flown up from Fairchild.