Helicopter pilot training for the Afghan army at Fort Rucker is shifting to UH-60 Black Hawks now that the Russian Mi-17 training program has come to an end.
The Aviation and Missile Command’s Aviation Center Logistics Command recently shipped the last two operational Mi-17 helicopters from Fort Rucker to Afghanistan, ending a seven-year training program on the aircraft at the south Alabama installation.
ACLC employees facilitated and oversaw Army Fleet Services (AFS) maintenance of the Mi-17s at Fort Rucker while Soldiers from C Company, 1-223rd Aviation Regiment, 110th Aviation Brigade trained Afghan soldiers to pilot the aircraft. The training consisted of the Mi-17 Aviator Qualification Course, Instructor Pilot Course, Functional Check Flight Course and Flight Engineer/Crewmember Course, among others. About 450 Afghan service members graduated from the program in its seven years at Fort Rucker.
At the height of training program, a fleet of five Mi-17s was maintained at Fort Rucker. Besides the two operational aircraft, three other Mi-17s that are no longer serviceable or operational will be shipped back to Afghanistan in the upcoming weeks.
“The training was done here because of the extensive knowledge that Soldiers of the 110th Aviation Brigade had with the airframe and its systems. Because the training mission was here, ACLC was required to provide a highly skilled maintenance program to keep the Mi-17s flying,” said Carwin Sterling, an Mi-17 Aircraft Equipment Specialist.
Sterling was among a team of ACLC employees who ensured the Mi-17s maintained their airworthiness for training purposes.
“The biggest challenge of working with the Mi-17 program was to put aside years of knowledge and experience with standard Army helicopters and shift to the Russian-based maintenance programs,” said Master Sgt. Sean Allen, Operations Non-Commissioned Officer for the ACLC.
“Due to the environment these aircraft were designed for there had to be a drastic adaptation to the aircraft maintenance in order to operate in a hot and humid environment. Overall it has been a great experience working with them and it has only broadened our team at ACLC in the process.”
The ACLC team supporting the Mi-17 Program included Sterling, ACLC commander Col. Michael Best, Roy Templin, Robert Tillery, Ed Fleshman, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Travis Dewitt, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Bellotte, Master Sgt. Sean Allen, Randy Merritt and Scott Flieger as well as AFS contractor support from Patricia Donahue, Ken Gill, John Buskirk, Ron Donahue, Mike Higgs, Dan Rawlings, Stacie Dalrymple and Jessica Lowery. Members of the Army Fleet Support Mi-17 Maintenance and Technical Inspector Team and C Company 1-223rd Aviation Regiment were also instrumental in ensuring the success of the maintenance support required by the program.
“I would like to acknowledge that it has been an honor and a privilege working with and assisting in all matters of the Mi-17 Program with the ACLC staff,” Sterling said.
The experience in working on Mi-17 maintenance and sustainment presented challenges unique to the foreign-built aircraft.
“The challenges we faced were to assist in obtaining parts, assisting in obtaining a vendor for the calibration of certain equipment, obtaining and assisting in support of the aircraft. It also has been a challenge with aircraft records and airworthiness directives,” Sterling said.
With the shipment of the last Mi-17, the ACLC employees on the program have moved on to new jobs. Sterling, who is a retired Sergeant First Class with a total 26 years of aviation maintenance experience, now works as a CH-47F Chinook Aircraft Equipment Specialist at Fort Rucker.
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