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Training like a BOSS!

Boom operator simulator system. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez/Released)

Boom operator simulator system. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez/Released)

Boom operator simulation system. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez/Released)

Boom operator simulation system. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez/Released)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., -- As you walk up the short stairs and look inside the rectangular box, you can imagine being in the air and getting ready for a refueling mission. All that is missing is the humming of the KC-135 Stratotanker's engine, and to some degree, the cold breeze you get from being in the boom pod in back of the air plane.

"This is as realistic as it can get," said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Sylvester, 141st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. "The projection screens are state-of-the art projectors, the visuals are excellent, and the boom pod itself is an exact recreation of the aircraft."

The 108th Wing will be using a high fidelity trainer - Boom Operator Simulation System - to provide real training in a virtual environment for their boom operators.

The simulator utilizes new technology and allows boom operators to maintain training requirements more easily.  The look, feel, and operation of the simulator are modeled almost exactly after the KC-135, said Sylvester, "Since the boom operator controls the connection between the receiving and fueling aircraft during the refueling process, it is very important that the simulation is accurate and realistic as possible."

Sylvester will be one of the first boom operators to be trained and certified on the equipment. He will then be an instructor for the other boom operators in the Wing.

With all the training that a boom operator requires to maintain their proficiency - approximately five months of air refueling technical school and survivor skill training - it is critical that these Airmen log-in as many flying and training hours as possible. Since some of these Airmen are traditional Guardsmen, one weekend a month, two weeks annual training, it is difficult to schedule training. In addition, if weather doesn't cooperate when a refueling mission is scheduled, the Airmen would lose that opportunity to practice the in-flight transfer of fuel from the tanker aircraft to the receiver aircraft.

"It doesn't matter if we have a real-weather cancellation," said Sylvester. "If that happens, the boom operator can come here with an instructor and recreate the exact mission that they were going to fly and do all the training they would have done in the air."

But the most important aspect of this simulator is the safety it can provide to the boom operators.

"We can experience in a safe environment malfunctions that we might see in an aircraft and react accordingly," said Sylvester.

In other words, they can train for mission hiccups, like a BOSS!