Sharpening the edge: 100th OG enhances teamwork through competition

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 100th Operations Group hosted the semi-annual Tanker Heist competition at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, Feb. 11-16.


Tanker Heist is a semi-annual readiness competition focused on testing and pushing the boundaries of aircrew knowledge and proficiency in a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft flight simulator and Boom Operator Weapon System Trainer.


“The Tanker Heist competition forces aircrew members to focus on performance as a team as they work to resolve non-standard, abnormal flight events,” said Capt. James Huff, 100th Operations Group mobility chief. “Events like Tanker Heist give us an opportunity to push ourselves and the aircraft to the limit. I can’t think of a better way to improve our agility as a crew force than by competing amongst each other.”


More than 60 aircrew members participated in the event, breaking into 20 teams of two pilots and one boom operator. Aircrew members were provided with a simulator profile and given 30 minutes to accomplish a pre-mission study. During this time, each team determined how best to execute maneuvers in accordance with KC-135 manuals and directives and Air Force tactics, techniques and procedures.


The simulator profile included 12 events under six main sections: boom operator flying proficiency, instrument approaches, landings, emergency procedures, aerial refueling and contacts. Each team had the ability to earn or lose points based on their techniques and success when accomplishing various maneuvers in the simulator.


“Tanker Heist highlights the importance of maintaining situational awareness and working together as a crew to complete a successful mission, and most importantly a safe mission,” said Senior Airman Juan Morales, 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator.


The competition, rooted in World War II history, focuses on teamwork, communication and ensuring aircrew have the ability to instruct their counterparts in an efficient manner while utilizing the different resources and tools available.


In fiscal year 2020, the 100th OG completed nearly 925 hours of simulator training time, the largest amount of training conducted on a KC-135 aircraft simulator across the Air Force in the last nine years. Most aircraft simulators are used on average nearly 250 hours annually, revealing that the 100th OG used approximately 300% more aircraft simulator training time than the average training location. 


“Although COVID-19 has caused a dramatic shift in how we conduct business, our unit continues to sharpen its edges with an emphasis on aircrew training to ensure the greatest margin of flight safety,” said Capt. Meagan Bowman, 100th Operations Group chief of operations group training.


The KC-135 simulator is an invaluable tool, providing aircrew members the opportunity to prepare for various in-flight emergencies. Simulator instructors have the ability to simulate engine failures, low visibility or sudden high winds, enabling aircrew to become proficient in various countermeasures. The simulator also has the ability to mirror the environment of a real flight, simulating turbulence, weather, time of day and the overall movement of an airborne KC-135. In addition, the simulator is loaded with airfields from around the globe, giving pilots the familiarity needed to take-off and land anywhere in the world.


The BOWST, similar to the KC-135 flight simulator, enables boom operators to train efficiently and effectively to handle all types of aerial refueling situations with both feet still on the ground. The BOWST resembles the boom pod, enabling boom operators to simulate boom, drogue and multi-point refueling system refueling on foreign and domestic aircraft.


“These events are a blast but they serve an important purpose, they make us better warriors, ready to respond when the nation needs us,” concluded Huff. “The team at RAF Mildenhall has this impressive ability to not only envision what the fight of the future might look like, but to also train and prepare of future conflicts…it is truly inspiring.”