Milestone for Afghan Air Force means better trained pilots

Milestone for Afghan Air Force means better trained pilots 21 Jan, 11, Source: US Air Force

The Afghan air force reached a new milestone with the opening of the pilot training program recently here.

The first Afghan pilots began their eight-week instruction course early in January with a four-day academic schedule before beginning flight instruction on the Mi-17 Hip H.

“We are helping the Afghans develop a training program that’s going to build the foundation of their air force for the future,” said Lt. Col. James Mueller, the 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander.

Home of the AAF training center, Shindand Air Base officials have taken steps to achieving their goal of becoming the pilot and aircrew training center for the country. The training center provides upgrade training, teaching co-pilots how to be aircraft commanders and eventually turning existing Afghan pilots into instructors.

“I think that with any air force, the backbone is the schoolhouse,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Shults, a 444th AEAS flight engineer adviser. “Here, we are producing future pilots, flight engineers and crew chiefs.”

Officials hope this training will develop into a homegrown, self-sustaining facility, eliminating the need for Afghan pilot candidates. At this time, the candidates leave the country to receive formal instruction at places such as Fort Rucker, Ala. Currently, the students enrolled have already received their wings, but need familiarization with the Mi-17.

The Mi-17 suits the landscape of Afghanistan.

“It’s a great aircraft for what they use it for,” Sergeant Shults said. “It hauls a lot of weight, a lot of people and it’s very durable — especially in the hills of Afghanistan and its low-lying deserts. We like to call it ‘The Tractor’ because it’s, no kidding, a John Deer that can hover.”

Base officials plan to expand its Mi-17 fleet  to increase the amount of training conducted here. The training center was developed to give the AAF the opportunity to focus solely on training; whereas in Kabul, training was balanced with the operational flying mission, officials said.

“The point of Shindand Air Base is to make sure we can focus on training only,” Sergeant Schultz said.

The curriculum includes contact maneuvers, normal procedures for take-offs and landings, different mission profiles and emergency flight procedures.

“We’re trying to hone the base skills of these pilots,” Sergeant Shults said. “With any helicopter, you have to be proficient. We’re training them to a standard to get them comfortable with the emergency procedures in the event they do experience one.”

This training is helping the Afghans develop a thorough plan, stressing the importance of vigilance while executing the mission safely.

“If we do not fly safely, we will lose all our aviation (capabilities), and we won’t have anymore pilots,” said AAF 1st Lt. Ehsanullah.

As they master these skills in the air, Afghan airmen will have the capabilities to more adeptly aid the Afghan National Army in the ground fight.

“We are teaching them these skills so they can apply that in the cockpit … and support the (ANA) as required with their flying skills,” said Maj. Drew Grigson, a 444th AEAS adviser.

“It’s so important that we can help our soldiers without enemy risks,” Lieutenant Ehsanullah said. “On the highway, they will shoot us and make some explosions, but (in the air), we can kill them without as much risk.”

Another goal of this training program is to grow until it can become a self-sufficient. This will enable NATO forces to draw down activity in the country. Until then, the instructor corps is comprised solely of U.S. Air Force members, officials said. As more Afghan pilots undergo the pilot training program here, the course will gradually shift to an all-Afghan instruction program with Airmen primarily shifting their focus on mentorship.

“We plan to run as many Afghan pilots through this course as possible, so we can start to transition the instructor responsibilities over to the Afghans,” Colonel Mueller said.

The training program is not only giving the Afghans confidence in their capabilities as Afghan airmen, but also instilling pride and hope for the future.

“We are going to leave them a peaceful Afghanistan and grateful people,” Lieutenant Ehsanullah said. “They will be thankful people without war, without attacks, without explosions for the future.”

With high hopes for the training program in place, the advisers look forward to graduation with anticipation.

“Hopefully, in eight weeks, they can walk away from here, go back to their home units and say, ‘Hey, look what I can do,'” Sergeant Shults said.

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