By Airman Emily Amyotte 190th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs With a high deployment tempo and limited aircraft, finding an available aircraft for boom operators to practice tying down cargo was almost always a problem.
] Master Sgt. Nathan Neidhardt, aircrew training NCOIC, 190th Operations Group, solved this problem by creating a fully-functioning cargo loading training simulator which checks all the boxes for improving safety, use of man-hours and logistics of cargo loading training. Neidhardt, his son, and another Airman from the 190th, Maj. Westley Broxterman, built the collapsible indoor training simulator in one weekend with just under $3,000 in supplies. The plywood simulator perfectly resembles the floor of a KC-135, minus the materials used to construct it. Using references from his cargo loading handbook and knowledge of the jets he works with on a daily basis, Neidhardt was able to create a blueprint for the floor simulation which illustrated support beams and tie-down points in a grid-like pattern. The idea to create a simulated KC-135 floor was sparked by the issues Neidhardt continuously ran into when trying to schedule a jet for training. Previously, boom operators required an operational jet to perform this training. This caused many hurdles and inconveniences for aircrews. 'It came up from a lack of aircraft since we're so busy deploying,' he said. 'Trying to schedule a cargo loading class with an actual aircraft was just hard. While we were on the jet trying to train, the aircrew had to sit and twiddle their thumbs wasting valuable training time. Whereas with this simulator, it's on our own time. We don't need anybody there, it's just the booms.' The simulator also addresses safety concerns for the Airmen and aircraft. 'We're not in the jet where it's dark, cold, wet and everything else,' he said. 'It's a controlled room where people can walk around and see different areas. It's a better learning environment that allows them to make mistakes without the fear of damaging the floor. 'At the end of the day, the boom operator is in charge of loading the cargo safely. If the cargo doesn't get loaded safely, then there's a chance of that airplane being damaged or crashing. So it's up to our booms to load cargo safely and properly because if he doesn't, it affects the whole crew.' Neidhardt believes that the cargo loading simulator has been a valuable investment for the wing and the boom operators who will receive enhanced, innovative training. 'As an instructor and training NCOIC, my goal is to make every boom operator better than me,' he said. 'I want each boom operator to not settle for just good, but the best. So when I train, I push them and I want them to be better than me because it's a legacy thing. I did it for the booms and future booms.'