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Afghan Air Force pins wings on first fixed-wing class grads

By Capt. Agneta Murnan , 438th Air Expeditionary Wing

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SHINDAND, AFGHANISTAN (October 19, 2012) — Three Afghan Air Force pilot trainees became not only the first fixed-wing students to earn their wings in Afghanistan after 30 years – on Oct. 15 they became the first pilots to complete the entire fixed-wing program entirely in Afghanistan since the beginning of the NATO air training mission for Afghanistan in 2007.

Through phases of English classes, Initial Flight Screening, countless hours of study, solo sorties, and carefully tracked flight time in the Cessna 182 and Cessna 208 at Shindand Air Base, AAF 1st Lts. Walid Noori, Emal Azizi and Khan Agha Ghaznavi have been writing pages in a chapter of AAF history.

The graduation took place in western Afghanistan in the wing headquarters of Shindand Air Base, hosting student pilots, mentors, instructors and base leadership from the AAF and Coalition team. The pilots received their wings from AAF Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqi, Shindand Air Wing commander; U.S. Air Force Col. David Gossett, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group commander; and AAF Col. Hashem, Shindand Air Wing Training Group commander.

“Training and education. Training and education,” said Baqi, an AAF veteran since 1973 and a pilot himself. “I’ve always spoken about these things as my personal message and focus.”

The trio began IFS in December 2011, and worked through their course of study, including more than 250 hours in the simulator and the C-182 and C-208 aircraft. Various Coalition military and civilian instructors partnered to transition this first class through the phases of training.

“By no means has the road traveled been easy for these young men,” Gossett explained. “To our graduates: make no mistake, the road you continue on will present challenges. However I am confident that you will step up and look for the opportunities in the challenges you face. Realize you are not alone.

“Each step you have taken, the support team has taken with you, allowing your aircraft to get airborne. Whether that element was a life support tech, a personnelist or a maintainer, they are working behind the scene to project the mission forward.”

Development of the AAF’s capacity to conduct pilot training in-country has been in progress since the beginnings of the NATO air training mission in 2007. These programs include medical and educational screenings, English language training, IFS – during which evaluation of pilot candidate aptitudes takes place with basic exposure to flight, and then undergraduate fixed and rotary-wing pilot training. Finally, qualification training must take place for the pilot’s assigned model of operational aircraft, rather than the original training aircraft.

Critical infrastructure developments, syllabus developments, aircraft acquisition and other requirements have been met to launch and complete the first classes of each of these programs.

“It is imperative that we continue to work together to build a strong Afghan Air Force,” Baqi said. “I am proud of the work we have accomplished this far. These pilots are a great proof of that teamwork.”

The first four students of the new undergraduate rotary-wing pilot training program received their wings at Shindand July 1. The new fixed-wing trio will next undergo advanced qualification training to become operational C-208 copilots.

Development of Afghan instructor pilots is underway for the next chapters of AAF history, as the next generations of pilots grow through experience and leadership, step by step, rank by rank.

“My family is really happy,” said Ghaznavi after his graduation, “because now I am a pilot. I have a job to do to serve my country. That’s all I wanted.”