Instructor in-flight refueling specialists train Airmen for FAFB critical mission set

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Megan Delaine
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing

In-flight refueling specialist instructors, also known as instructor boom operators, are crucial to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing’s mission to support America’s warfighting capabilities with global reach and combat support.

Their ability to develop students, inside and outside the jet, is a key component to accomplishing that mission.

“As instructor booms, we plan, implement, and execute Fairchild’s mission certification and continuation training,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Espinoza, an in-flight refueling specialist instructor and the 92nd Operations Group noncommissioned officer-in-charge of training. “Our goal is to foster growth, skills and expertise with Fairchild’s newest boom operators, encompassing air refueling, cargo loading, aeromedical evacuation and contingency operations.

In-flight refueling specialist instructors guide their students to strive for higher levels of expertise and master specific skills not taught during technical training, such as, refueling fighter aircraft.

“As a mission boom, you are always continuing to grow; even now, I’m continuing to grow,” said Espinoza. “Becoming an instructor boom operator is going to that next tier and setting the example for new airmen. It’s a whole new set of responsibilities because the mission boom operators depend on you, especially when you’re flying. As an instructor, you’re in charge of ensuring they get taught the right information and that everybody is being safe.”

“Being an instructor is very rewarding,” he added. “They are just coming from technical training, and you know they have a baseline of knowledge, but what I love is watching them grow and expand their tool kit. It’s very fulfilling.”

Espinoza manages all the new Airmen arriving from technical training or from a permanent change of station. He ensures all their prerequisite ground training tasks are completed before flying. Upon completion, students earn their mission certification and go on to conduct worldwide operations.

“They are technically qualified to fly by themselves, but they aren’t qualified to do Fairchild’s mission,” said Senior Airman Sage Ledet, an in-flight refueling specialist instructor assigned to the 384th Air Refueling Squadron. “Part of what we do is fly with them to get them mission-qualified in what Fairchild does.”

Airmen become in-flight refueling specialists by completing the Aircrew Fundamentals course at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and the Basic In-Flight Refueling course at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, for their In-Flight Refueling Initial Qualification training.

We can read the manuals all day long, but it doesn’t give you the same training you get when you are with an instructor that can help and teach you techniques,” said Staff Sgt. Brennon Lacy, an in-flight refueling specialist instructor assigned to the 92nd ARS. “Instructing newer boom operators who desire to learn is very satisfying. It makes teaching them our mission set easy.”

Espinoza grew not only by becoming an instructor but also by retraining from security forces to in-flight refueling.

“For my first six years [in the Air Force], I was security forces,” he recalled. “I retrained back in 2019, and I love being a boom operator. I think it’s the coolest job in the Air Force. Every time I return to the boom pod, it’s so exciting to me. The thought of being up there in flight and refueling another aircraft is absolutely nuts to me.”

Many instructor boom operators are staff sergeants because they possess leadership experience, time in service and other essential factors in the selection process. Potential instructors must also meet the minimum in-flight hours required to qualify for upgrade training.

Senior Airman Sage Ledet was able to achieve these milestone requirements as a senior airman because of two deployments early in his career. He said that although becoming an instructor has decreased his flight hours, he's glad he decided to pursue being an instructor.

“Becoming an instructor has given me a sense of responsibility and self-accountability even in my personal life,” Ledet explained. “For me, it’s not an ‘if my student was here, what would they think of me,’ but rather ‘I’m a role model for a lot of people because I’m who’s teaching them how to do their job.’ I’m trying to push myself to be more like that every day. I'm trying to be a good role model inside and outside the jet.”