June 15, 2012

Civil Air Patrol aerospace education reaches new heights with B-2 aerial refueling

by Laura Mowry
Staff writer
Air Force photograph by Bobbi Zapka
Master Sgt. Thomas Ireland, 445th Flight Test Squadron superintendent and boom operator, operates the boom on a KC-135 while Civil Air Patrol Airman 1st Class Francisco Gonzalez watches. CAP cadets got the chance to watch the mid-air refueling of a B-2 stealth bomber June 7.

A little incentive goes a long way for eight members of Civil Air Patrol Squadron 84, who spent June 7 touring Edwards and even had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly for 90 minutes onboard a KC-135 tasked with refueling the most impressive, B-2 stealth bomber.

The educational, action-packed day began at 9 a.m. for the squadron and included mission and physiology briefings; as well as a tour of the historic Edwards flightline, where students had the opportunity to see aircraft, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, B-1 Lancer and C-17 Globemaster III. After the tour, the group dined at the Base Exchange for lunch and prepared for their afternoon rendezvous with the B-2.

The sortie, which began at 1 p.m., provided Squadron 84 with the opportunity to learn firsthand about aerial refueling. Each member of the squadron had time with boom operator Master Sgt. Thomas Ireland, 445th Flight Test Squadron superintendant, during the inflight refueling effort. During the flight, cadets also had the opportunity to spend time in the KC-135 cockpit.

“The goal of the day was to give the cadets a firsthand look at Airmen at work and excite an appreciation for aerospace,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Ray, 445th FLTS. “Our aim was for the group to learn that there are many facets to the Air Force team and to expose them to the operational side.”

Ray, a prior Civil Air Patrol cadet served as the group’s tour guide throughout the visit and was the additional boom operator onboard the KC-135 flight.

“As a former Civil Air Patrol cadet, I jumped at the opportunity to work with the cadets,” said Ray. “I know how influential opportunities like this were for me as a cadet and [how it] helped shape my future. I hope to pay that forward.”

According to Ray, the squadron’s rare opportunity to spend a day touring the operational side of Edwards and participate in an incentive flight, which refueled the B-2, is an important moment for the cadets. Additionally, it plays a significant role by helping to fulfill the Civil Air Patrol’s aerospace education mission.

“I can see some of these kids being generals one day or going out there and making a big impact,” said Diane Zamot, Squadron 84 Aerospace Education officer. “This could be the start of it.”

Part of what makes Civil Air Patrol a great opportunity for children between the ages of 12 and 18, is that it educates youth on so much more than just flight. Civil Air Patrol emphasizes leadership, character development and community service.

Members of Civil Air Patrol Squadron 84 pose in front of a KC-135 tanker June 7 before taking an incentive flight to watch a mid-air refueling of a B-2 stealth bomber. The flight gave the cadets a firsthand show on real Air Force operations.

Refueling the B-2 at 23,000 feet just happens to be a huge perk of the program.

The squadron’s incentive flight is not the first of its kind for the group, which had the privilege of flying on a C-17 last summer. Additionally, each cadet in Civil Air Patrol is given five orientation flights in a Cessna 182.

When the cadets are not soaring high above the Antelope Valley, they can be found giving back to the community by helping organizations, such as the Airman’s Attic or even assisting at events.

Just a few of the events that the squadron has volunteered at include air shows; Black Bird Air Park’s open-cockpit event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis; participated in search and rescue missions and served as the Honor Guard at a Lancaster JetHawks game.

“It is awesome, the things we do make a difference in peoples’ lives,” said Zamot. “These kids are so dedicated and they know where they want to go. We build leaders – that is what the Civil Air Patrol does.”

For Squadron 84, the incredible opportunity of seeing the operational side of the Air Force at Edwards was just another step towards producing future leaders, whether it’s in the Air Force, a sister service, or even in the private sector. For now, they can marvel in the fact that they joined a rare group of folks who have had the honor of looking down at a B-2.

“The day was amazing. I don’t really know what to say, other than it was absolutely amazing,” said Marlena Sanchez, cadet technical sergeant.

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