Boom operator reaches 5,000 flying hours

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Tech. Sgt. Daniel McCrillis, 350th Air Refueling Squadron operations superintendent and boom operator, performs a preflight check Dec. 14, 2017, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. The preflight check ensured that the crew and passengers were able to safely complete their mission while airborne. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)

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A B-1 Lancer assigned to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas pulls away from a KC-135 Statotanker assigned to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Dec. 14, 2017, while flying over Texas. The KC-135’s primary function is aerial refueling, but it can also be used for airlift and medical evacuations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)

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Tech. Sgt. Daniel McCrillis, 350th Air Refueling Squadron operations superintendent and boom operator, refuels a B-1 Lancer assigned to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Dec. 14, 2017, while flying over Texas. Boom operators accomplish McConnell’s mission of air refueling by offloading fuel to incoming receivers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)

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Two B-1 Lancers assigned to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, fly in formation after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Dec. 14, 2017, while flying over Texas. The multi-mission B-1 is the backbone of America’s long-range bomber force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Constant conversation continued over the radio, but an hour and 42 minutes into the flight, everything went quiet.

“At that exact point, it was silent,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel McCrillis, 350th Air Refueling Squadron operations superintendent and boom operator. “I had about a minute to reflect on everything.”

Just east of Denver on Nov. 29, McCrillis anticipated the moment he would complete his goal of reaching 5,000 flying hours. It came just after he completed refueling his favorite receiver, the B-52 Stratofortress.

McCrillis, a 15 Air Force veteran, started his career at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, in July 2003 and has continued refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker at McConnell AFB.

“Reaching this milestone is not a simple task,” said Master Sgt. Dustin Clark, 350th ARS superintendent. “There is an Air Mobility Command safety program that awards you milestone patches for accomplishing certain hours mishap free. McCrillis reached his goal of 5,000 hours and did it without any mishaps.”

He looked for opportunities to fly as often as he could, including exercises, training and 12 deployments. It was a goal for him to join the generations of boom operators who are recognized at the yearly Boom Symposium.

The Boom Symposium is held at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, to honor past and present boom operators each year. During the symposium, they recognize the boom operator with the fewest flight hours with the Young Tiger Award and the boom operator with the most flight hours with the Not-So-Young Tiger Award.

McCrillis said that for a boom operator to even be considered for the Not-So-Young Tiger Award, they need to have at least 5,000 flying hours, which is why he chose that number as his goal.

“It’s just about wanting to be in the presence of those people, even if it’s only for a minute,” said McCrillis.

Clark said that McConnell’s active-duty boom operators can reach an average of 1,000 to 2,000 flying hours within a two to four year span, but most start to stall once they begin leading different shops in their squadrons.

“I always hopped on the flights that people didn’t want,” said McCrillis. “I’ve always wanted the flight time.”

McCrillis enjoys flying, which is why he also trained outside of the Air Force to become a civilian flight instructor, which he did in just over two years. He also has a private pilot’s license and his next goal is to become a commercial airline pilot.

He expressed how thankful he was for the experience, not just in the air, but with the pilots he has flown with who have helped him gain the knowledge he needed throughout his years of service.

“If I wasn’t a boom, there’s absolutely no way I would be where I am right now,” said McCrillis. “I owe the Air Force, the tanker and the pilots a lot. I will be forever grateful for that.”