Citizen Airman continues his family’s military aviation legacy

  • Published
  • By 927th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office
  • 927th Air Refueling Wing

The history of the KC-135 dates back to August of 1956 when the first Stratotanker took to the skies to meet the demands of the new jet engine powered fighters and bombers of the day.

Sixty years later it remains the workhorse of the Air Force’s air refueling capability thanks to a proud lineage of dedicated aviators, passing down skills and a love of flying from generation to generation.

First Lieutenant Lance Welch is one such aviator, currently assigned to the 63rd Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, that was introduced to flying at a young age, and continues to carry on his family’s tradition.

 “Flying is in my blood,” said Welch. “My grandfather was an A-1 Skyraider pilot in the Navy, my dad was a KC-130 pilot in the Marines and my brother was a private pilot.”

Growing up, most families experience the excitement loading up the station wagon and hitting the open highway for a vacation. But not the Welch family, they hit the friendly skies.

‘When I was very young, I remember sitting in the backseat of a Cessna 206 with my mom, as my Dad and my brother would be flying us to places like Washington, Utah or the Grand Canyon,” said Welch.

Surprisingly though, flying didn’t come naturally to Welch, but by his senior year of high school the seed had been planted and he had his sights set on becoming an Air Force pilot.

“To be honest, at first I was terrified of flying, I would sit in the backseat and being a small aircraft it was bumpy, I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t in control. I was terrified,” said Welch. One day my dad put me in the seat, I was in control, and the switch just clicked. Eventually I gained a strong appreciation for flight and I thought ‘what an awesome idea to have an office at 30,000 ft’.”

It was clear to Welch he had the desire and the bloodline for the job, the challenge was to find the best path. Welch continued to maintain his good grades as he planned on going to college right out of high school, when the path presented itself through an unexpected opportunity.  

“I heard an enlisted opportunity opened up at Beale [Air Force Base, California] as a boom operator with the AF Reserve wing. It wasn’t a pilot position, but I would get to be part of the aircrew while I continued my education,” said Welch. “While flying in the [KC] 135, being part of the crew, I fell in love with the tanker lifestyle and the tanker mission, it’s not the most glamorous aircraft, but the mission is awesome. We fuel the fight.”

Beginning his Air Force career as a boom operator and transitioning to a pilot has its advantages, allowing Welch. Especially when it comes to learning the ins and outs of the aircraft, from the boom pod to the flight deck. 

“Having been a boom operator, it gives me a one upper on a pilot. I know what is going on in the back, I know the boom operator mission, I know what they are looking at in the back during a pre-check,” said Welch. “I also know what the boom operators look for in a pilot, I know what they are thinking, what they are feeling, and how they are going to respond in an emergency situation.”  

Now that Welch is in the pilot’s seat, he is striving to be the best aviator he can be, and share his knowledge throughout his squadron.    

 “I’m looking to becoming an aircraft commander, someone that boom operator looks up to for advice. Someone they would be comfortable flying with and know we are coming back safely to our families,” said Welch.

The 63 ARS is the lone flying squadron assigned to the 927th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve Command associate wing. MacDill AFB is home to 16 KC-135 Stratotankers, operated and maintained by both the 927th Air Refueling Wing and the 6 AMW.