Afghan pilot program achieves milestone with first graduates
September 7, 2012
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SHINDAND, Afghanistan (Sept. 7, 2012) -- For the first time in more than 30 years, Afghan pilots completed pilot training held in their home country. The Rotary Wing Flight Training Program was developed and conducted by Soldiers from the U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization for the Afghan Air Corps in order to create an independent Afghan Air Force program.
Six MD 530Fs, two Flight Training Devices and additional equipment and critical spare parts were delivered in December to the Shindand Air Base as part of a foreign military sales case facilitated by the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command and managed by PEO Aviation's Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft Project Office, both located at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
Four Afghan Air Force lieutenants participated in the four-month program. The course consisted of three phases of instruction on the MD 530F aircraft, according to Lt. Col. Jeffery Bouma, USASATMO's team chief for the course. The first phase taught the fundamentals of flying a helicopter, such as normal traffic patterns, hovering and emergency procedures. The second phase included basic instrument flight. The final phase covered tactical maneuvers such as dust and brownout landings and formation.
"Each student accumulated 140 hours of flight time in the MD 530 and MD 530 Flight Training Device," Bouma said. This included "team rides," where two students rode together and completed three flight patterns each, without a U.S. instructor in the aircraft.
The final phase of training also included an extended cross country flight from Shindand to Kandahar and back, which is approximately 475 miles round trip. Students were responsible for the entire process of the trip such as flight planning and fuel consumption estimates. The class leader, 1st Lt. Ahmad Bakhshi, said it "was a great opportunity for us to fly in our environment."
Bouma and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Randall Jaynes are in place for one year to conduct pilot instruction and logistics for the program, which included developing the program's goals.
"They took a basic contractor provided training program and molded it into a complete solution for basic helicopter flight training and supporting classroom instruction," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 David White, Security Assistance Team manager for USASATMO's Aviation Branch. "Conventional U.S. forces do not use the MD 530F, so it was a particular challenge for SATMO to develop a relevant program from the ground up."
Bouma commented that many factors, such as equipment delivery, personnel arrivals and maintenance and life support, came together under difficult conditions.
"Without a doubt, the success of this program has been the immense amount of teamwork and cross talk between multiple organizations," Bouma said. In addition to USASATMO and NSRWA, the Security Assistance Office in Kabul and the U.S. Air Force were among the organizations that played a significant role in establishing the program. "Without the full support of everyone, the program would have failed," Bouma said.
"The MD 530 helicopters were designed, built and customized for the Afghan Air Force," said Randy Rivers, a contractor with the NSRWA project office. This included switching the pilot's seat from the right side to the left side of the aircraft to account for Afghanistan standards.
During a ceremony July 1 at Shindand Air Base, Bouma said the importance of the pilots' graduation was not only an achievement for them, but for their families, the Afghan Air Force and the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
"We are very proud and very excited that we are the first four students to complete training inside our country to become pilots in the Afghan Air Force and serve our people," Bakhshi said.
All four of the graduates are undergoing advanced aircraft qualification in the MI-17 and are to conclude their training in late August. Upon completion, they will be assigned to operational squadrons throughout Afghanistan.
"Training opportunities such as this are very difficult and time consuming to get off the ground," Bouma said. "With our assistance we can help the Afghans build a program that they can take sole ownership of in just a few years."
In addition to training future pilots, Bouma said efforts are under way to train instructor pilots and mechanics for the MD 530 helicopters. The plan is to transfer the whole program over to the Afghan Air Force by January 2015, according to White.
"The quality of our training is completely dependent on our ability to assemble high quality people like Bouma and his team of military and contract professionals," White said.
USASATMO, a subordinate command of USASAC based at Fort Bragg, N.C., will continue to conduct multiple training classes throughout the year in Afghanistan, fulfilling their motto "Training the World, One Soldier at a Time."
"It is vital that we train the new generation of Afghan officers and soldiers to be a professional, self-sufficient force," Bouma said. "They have the capacity -- it's simply providing them the knowledge on how a professional organization operates."
The second class of the Rotary Wing Flight Training Program is scheduled with four new students.