TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Aviation history runs in the blood of Staff Sgt. Cade Yandell.
The sergeant at Travis Air Force Base, California, is the descendent of several generations of flyers; his father, who received his pilot’s license at 15, an uncle who flew commercially and a grandfather who taught a generation of flyers, including Amelia Earhart.
Now Yandell, a KC-10 Extender boom operator with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron, is working on carving out his own space in that lineage. He recently attended the 509th Weapons Squadron’s 15-week Advanced Instructor Course at Fairchild AFB, Washington — a course that focuses on the KC-135 Stratotanker.
Yandell attended the course as an auditor, along with boom operators who fly the KC-46A Pegasus, bringing members of Air Mobility Command’s tanker community together for a rare opportunity. The program gave attendees exposure to the same lessons and training opportunities as their KC-135 counterparts while such a course does not exist for the KC-10 or KC-46.
Yandell explained the aim of the course is to both teach attendees how to integrate the practical applications of the job as well as see how it fits into a wider view of any particular mission in terms of operational planning and execution; the goal is to make well-rounded Airmen.
“The course is designed to produce tacticians,” he said. “We focus on cargo air refueling as operators, but it’s designed to make you more than just an operator.”
Yandell said the course teaches the sorts of lessons he soaked up as a child immersed in a family devoted to flying, the kind of lessons and information his grandfather learned through experience in an era when pilots didn’t have classes or manuals.
“(It’s there to) impart knowledge that wasn’t written in books,” he said. “To do the kind of learning that’s ‘hey, sometimes stuff isn’t written in the books,’ but we are here to learn that practical knowledge.”
One of the lessons Yandell brought back to the 9th ARS echoes Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown’s statement that the American military must “accelerate change or lose” in modern military campaigns.
“We need to develop and grow new techniques and procedures,” Yandell said. “We’re constantly changing and adapting to what our near-peer adversaries are throwing up against us.”
Also bringing back those sort of lessons to his squadron is Staff Sgt. DeVaughn Granger, KC-46 boom operator with the 344th Air Refueling Squadron at McConnell AFB, Kansas.
Granger appreciated the opportunity to get boom operators for the KC-10, KC-46 and KC-135 all in one place.
“It’s very rare that you can put all three current tanker aircraft in the same room and talk about employing them, right? And have the perspective from each and every tanker,” he said.
He also was glad he got to work with Yandell.
“He’s … an extremely hard worker and attacks problems just straightforward,” he said. “If you give him a problem, it’s going to get solved. So all around, it was an amazing experience. I’m glad I got to meet him.”
Chief Master Sgt. Justin Brundage said Yandell is a “go-to NCO” in the 9th ARS.
“We have utilized his innovative spirit with Phoenix Spark projects,” Brundage said. “He will soon be transitioning over to Wing Tactics with his newfound and refined skills from this course.”
Yandell’s experience adds to a family history steeped in flying. His grandfather, John Yandell, was an Air Force colonel who started as an instructor with the Navy’s U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, more commonly known as TOPGUN. He later owned 15 P-38 Lighting aircraft, selling 13 of them to the Brazilian air force and teaching Brazilians to fly.
Among the many pilots John Yandell taught in and out of the service was Earhart, who attempted to become the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. She disappeared during the pursuit and was later declared dead in 1939.
Yandell’s father, Lance, qualified to fly at the age of 15 in a P-38. Lance served in the dental corps, but flew privately. His uncle, Johnny, worked for the now-defunct Eastern Airlines, which ceased operations in 1991. Johnny was a pilot aboard the first commercially hijacked airplane, which was forced to land in then-hostile Cuban territory, Cade Yandell said.
Yandell said growing up in such a family made flying seem natural to him. He reminisced about being a child, looking up to the sky and watching planes as they soared overhead.
“I would look up and stop what I (was) doing,” he said. “It’s funny because, today, I’m still that kid. If I see a C-17 on approach, I watch them put their gear down. I love everything about airplanes.
“Aviation has been fascinating to me, humans doing the impossible, making it real. It’s in my blood and always will be.”