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Members of an Air Force squadron assigned to the West Coast but Roswell Air Center for a few days of training spent some of their time Thursday morning showing students around one of two KC-135 refueling planes that they brought here and to answer questions. on the Stratotankers as well as on the army.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Noah Dominguez, a fourth-grader at Valley View Elementary School.
Valley View brought in students from its science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and robotics clubs. Students also had the chance to try out the flight simulators at the Walker Aviation Museum in the terminal building before the aircraft tour.
Dominguez said he was impressed with all the cockpit controls and liked the boom pod, a small compartment near a window in the belly of the plane where crews can lie down and help with refueling by fuel.
“It was very comfortable,” he said. “I must have the pillow seat.”
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The boom pod was also the favorite part of the plane tour for David Supan, a local homeschooler studying mostly fourth grade subjects.
Logan Gray, also a homeschooler studying mostly eighth grade subjects, traveled from Alto for the day. He said he learned a little more to help him in his goal of becoming an Air Force jet pilot. He said he especially likes to sit in the cockpit.
Also among the students were five cadets from the New Mexico National Guard Youth Challenge Academy. Case manager Tim Amos said it was the first time cadets had attended KC-135 rounds, though the Air Force squadron typically trains at Roswell Air Center every six months. Several of the cadets asked about military careers.
Cpt. Victoria Perkins, KC-135 pilot and 509th Weapons Squadron instructor and Air Force Academy graduate, said she believes providing first-hand experiences for young people can make a difference in their future.
“For me personally, as a minority and a woman in STEM careers and especially in aviation, being able to reach out to students at an early age when they have so many questions and see things that they wouldn’t normally see, and to get to touch an airplane more than just fly on it for commercial purposes, dramatically changes people’s trajectories,” she said. “It’s also a reminder to be able to share the passion that we all have to live and breathe as a career.”
KC-135s carry 200,000 pounds of fuel and can refuel most types of military aircraft and helicopters in the air. They also transport goods and provide aerial medical evacuations.
Perkins said the squadron likes to come to Roswell Air Center because of its 13,000-foot runways and lack of air traffic, which creates good conditions for the “atypical” takeoff and landing maneuvers that are part of of training.
“The airspace around Roswell allows us to have a lot more maneuverability with our tactical training on how we land and take off from airfields,” said Perkins, who has been to Roswell four times. “And we have a great relationship with the FAA in this area and the airfield controllers, both the airspace and the physical airfield.”
She also mentioned that the unit values its historical ties to Roswell because the 509th Air Refueling Unit was stationed at Roswell Army Airfield in 1947 and 1948.
Now the 509th Weapons Squadron is a “tenant” unit currently assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington, and working with the 92nd Wing. The squadron is part of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.