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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | April 4, 2011

1HS Airmen train Afghan Air Force Pilots

By Senior Airman Torey Griffith 11th Wing Public Affairs

True to the 11th Wing principals of vigilance, precision and global impact, deployed members of the 1st Helicopter Squadron are improving the world one pilot at a time as they train members of the Afghan Air Force.

A milestone in the development of the Afghan Air Force, 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, 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander.

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

"I think that with any air force, the backbone is the schoolhouse," said Staff Sgt. Justin Shults, 444th AEAS flight engineer adviser, deployed from the 1st Helicopter Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md. "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 is an outstanding performer in the diverse landscapes of Afghanistan, officials said.

"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 the Mi-17 fleet to increase the amount of training conducted. 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."

Another goal of this training program is to grow until it can become 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 servicemembers, officials said. As more Afghan pilots undergo the pilot training program, the course will gradually shift to an all-Afghan instruction program with American 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," said AAF Lieutenant Ehsanullah, an Mi-17 pilot. "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.

Tech. Sgt. Stacia Zachary, Air Forces Central combat camera, contributed to this story.