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From cold war gunner to present-day boom operator

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joshua Williams
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. — Bomber, airlift and now refueling. Those are the incredible missions of one Niagara Falls Reserve Citizen Airman.

Tech. Sgt. Corey Palmer, 50, is currently attending in-flight refueling training – more commonly known as Boom School – at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

His military career started in 1988 as an active-duty tail gunner in the B-52. When that crew position went away, he decided to leave the service. After a 20-year break in service, he decided to jump back in.

“I wanted a flying position, that’s all I knew,” said Palmer, who when he’s not travelling 500 miles an hour and refueling other aircraft at 40,000 feet in altitude works as an accounts manager for a trucking company. “I love planes just as much as I did when I was a kid. It’s a love that’s never left me.”

Palmer’s long journey to Boom School started on active duty as a tail gunner in the B-52 in 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as the Cold War was winding down.

“As they phased out the tail gunner in the B-52, they offered people an early-out. I took it and started my own trucking business,” he said. Twenty years later, Palmer got the itch to zip up his flight suit again in 2010 and began looking for aircrew positions in the Air Force Reserve.

“I just knew I wanted to fly again. I was getting old, so I needed to get back in before the age limit,” Palmer said.

Joining back up in 2010, Palmer enlisted as a Reservist with the 914th Airlift Wing, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York, as a C-130 flight engineer. When the 914th AW converted to an air refueling wing in June 2017, the opportunity to become a boomer presented itself.

Palmer said the biggest change he’s seen in the Air Force since he first joined in 1988 is the technology.

“Our squadron might have had four computers when I first joined,” he said. “Now, air crews have all of their manuals and maps on an iPad.”

He added that the one part that hasn’t changed is the quality of people who serve as aircrew members.

“Each air crew has so much pride in their aircraft,” Palmer said. “I constantly remind myself that I’m part of something big.”

Looking forward, Palmer said he’s excited about the refueling mission and has his sights set on when he refuels his first B-52.

“Odds are pretty good I actually flew on that aircraft,” he said. “That’s pretty special.”

Of the three aircraft he’s served on, Palmer said the B-52 is his favorite.

“This is probably going to bug the C-130 guys, but I just loved flying in the 52,” Palmer said. “It’s incredible that it even flies. … and it’s going to keep flying. It’s crazy to think that the last B-52 pilot isn’t even born yet.”

As young men and women are joining the military and getting into shape, Palmer stays active with his two teenage kids.

“I play a lot of basketball with my son,” Palmer said. “I love running around the court against guys half my age. Honestly though, I don’t really think about my age.”

In Boom School, Palmer said he uses his experience to help mentor those coming up through the ranks.

“It’s all part of being something bigger,” he said. “Very few people in the Air Force actually get to fly. It’s something you don’t take for granted.”

It’s that passion for aviation that continues to motivate the former tail gunner.

“When I was a kid, a plane would fly overhead and I would stop and stare into the sky. I still do it today.”