MARCH ARB – Not everybody can say they spend their time 21,000 feet above the ground, but Antelope Valley native and Senior Master Sgt. Nicole Canada does just that, as a Boom Operator and Flight Chief for the Air Force Reserves.
“I think being a boom operator is probably the best enlisted job in the air force,” said Canada. “One of the big reasons for that is that we are such a close-knit crew on 135. It’s just the three of us and we rely quite a bit on each other, so you have that family aspect of it.”
Canada graduated from Antelope Valley High School in 1986 and joined the United States Air Force mainly to receive financial help with higher education. After joining, however, she realized that the family tradition was also her passion.
“Following in the footsteps of my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father, I’m proud to keep the tradition of military service alive in my family,” Canada explained.
Canada completed her USAF Personnel/Administrative Specialist Certification course in 1989, and began working as a boom operator in 1991.
“My squadron commander came out one day, looked at me sitting there and goes, ‘Canada, why are you flying this desk? Wouldn’t you rather be flying on airplanes?’ And I was like ‘sure, sir!'” Canada remembers.
When on assignment, Canada flies out of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base as a member of the 336th Air Refueling Squadron. She also volunteers for occasional nighttime refueling and daytime training missions.
As a boom operator, Canada controls the refueling boom on a KC-135 Stratotanker, which requires her to lay on her stomach to access a medium-sized control panel. She maneuvers the refueling boom using only a small window. She also keeps in continuous interaction with the pilot and co-pilot in the receiving planes.
Typically, refueling is done at 265 knots, or 305 miles per hour, at around 21,000 feet. A large aircraft can take between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of fuel, and a small aircraft can take around 2,000 pounds.
Canada explained she lets the pilots know where the receiver is at all times. “That’s one of the main jobs that we do, is to keep these guys informed, be their eyes and ears for the back of the airplane.”
Canada also helps the pilots with radio calls and takes care of passengers and cargo.
“Anything that’s pretty much behind their heads is my job,” she stated.
The pilots and crew that work with Canada have nothing but great things to say about her character, attitude, and overall performance.
“Every time I see her, she’s always had a smile on her face and she’s always motivated to do something,” said 1st Lt. Jay Miller, who had his first training mission with Canada on Feb. 13.
Lt. Col. Shane Lohman also raved about Canada.
“Sgt. Canada is probably one of the most passionate people I know. She’s very patriotic. She loves her country, and loves our squadron. She’s always happy and always upbeat, which really helps when you’re out in the desert or things are getting tough.”
Canada received her Associates in Aerospace Operations in 1994 from the Community College of the Air Force. She then received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from California State University San Bernardino.
Parents, Joe and Sandra Canada, also worked in aerospace for Rockwell International on the B-1 Bomber and Space Shuttle programs. They both still reside in Lancaster, along with her brother, Anthony Canada, who is employed with NASA at Edwards AFB.
Canada is also the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Integrated Sustainment Program (GISP) Program Manager for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Just recently, she was awarded C-17 GISP Employee of the Month.
“I have to say Boeing is a really great company when it comes to military folks,” stated Canada. “They have been very supportive. I’ve always had managers, and a close-knit team, so we always cover each other.”
When asked if she had any advice for young women contemplating the same career fields, she explained it’s very important not to have a “girly girl” attitude.
“’No crying and flying’ is my motto,” Canada explained. “As long as you can pull your own weight, I say go for it. If I can do it, they can to.”
View more photos from our day on the job with Nicole Canada!
“Nicole Canada who grew up in East Lancaster later became a boom operator.”
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