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Training the Human Weapons System: B-52 FTU adopts innovative CRAFT program

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
  • 307th Bomb Wing

It cost $9.7 million to train a B-52 Stratofortress pilot, according to a 2019 RAND Corporation study.

But until recently, there was no scientific, holistic program at Barksdale Air Force Base designed to ensure that aircrew functioned at maximum cognitive and physical capacity.

That changed earlier this year when the 93rd and 11th Bomb Squadron, the two units running the B-52 Formal Training Unit, implemented the Comprehensive Readiness for Aircrew Flying Training program, also known as CRAFT.

Leadership at Air Force Global Strike Command initially brought CRAFT to Barksdale AFB to provide the best training possible for its B-52 aircrews, said Lt. Col. Aaron Bohl, 93rd Bomb Squadron commander.

The program melds cognitive function, physical fitness, and nutrition to maximize warfighting capabilities.

The B-52 FTU is the first Air Force Global Strike Command entity to use the program.

“It’s an investment in the aircrew as a human weapon system,” said Bohl. “CRAFT is about building the future B-52 warfighter that can operate in any environment necessary.”

CRAFT is currently geared toward B-52 trainees in Initial Qualification Training and aircrew in the Flight Instructor Course.

A specialized team consisting of two cognitive performance specialists, Dr. Johannes Raabe and Dr. Tucker Readdy, Mandy Enloe, a strength and conditioning coach, and Heather McKenzie, a registered dietician, run the program.

The team collaborates closely, using best practices from the 19th Air Force CRAFT program to develop strategies and techniques specifically for the B-52.

“There are unique demands and responsibilities for B-52 aircrew,” explained Raabe about developing CRAFT for the B-52 community. “You wouldn’t train a basketball player like a football player or even a pitcher like an outfielder.”

To better understand those demands, the CRAFT team immersed itself in the B-52 world, interviewing subject matter experts, reviewing relevant research, analyzing data, and working in the B-52 simulator.

“Just being in the simulator helped me develop an appreciation of the level of stress aircrew might feel,” said McKenzie. “And analyzing the jet’s physical space helped me to understand best how to incorporate proper nutrition and hydration into the program.”

All those efforts are helping them develop a curriculum where aircrew gain practical application of how to best work in stressful conditions, said Readdy. 

“A session might involve reducing heart rate when completing a difficult task such as air refueling,” he said. “We’ll bring them to a state of stress and fatigue and teach them strategies and techniques that bring them to a physiological and psychological state where better decision-making can occur.”

The team explained that such lessons would be readily transferable to actual sorties. In addition, a deeper understanding of proper nutrition and hydration will underpin all the physical and cognitive efforts.

CRAFT in the B-52 community is in its early stages of development. But the team members agreed that leadership at AFGSC and the FTU had laid a strong foundation for success.

“They’ve given us the time and resources to do this right and make it successful,” said Raabe.

Readdy said the CRAFT curriculum is nearly ready for implementation, and the team should be able to measure the program’s impact in the coming months.