|Night vision training increases Afghan AF capabilities|
By Capt. Anastasia Wasem, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing
SHINDAND AIR BASE, Afghanistan (March 26, 2013) — NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan air advisors reached an important milestone in the Combined Strategic Flight Plan with the inclusion of nighttime operational capabilities as part of flight training for the Afghan Air Force. Night vision goggle training is one part of an extensive curriculum for student pilots.
Under the instruction of advisors from the 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, each Afghan student going through Undergraduate Pilot Training must complete 17 hours of NVG training during night flights in an MD-530 light helicopter.
"The 'goggles' phase of UPT can be very challenging," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Andy Miller, MD-530 team standardization pilot advisor. "Looking through NVGs is like looking with just one eye open and with everything in shades of just green and black."
The students are taught that distance estimation, depth perception and relative motion vision may be altered while wearing NVGs.
"The most important lesson that the students must learn is how to interpret what they see through the goggles," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lee Lane, MD-530 team standardization pilot advisor. "For example, they learn the science behind relative motion and to recognize that objects in the distance seem to stay the same while objects close up move quickly. There's also a steep learning curve in recognizing that the goggles are two dimensional and take away both depth perception and peripheral vision."
The equipment used to obtain night vision is fairly simple. The students are equipped with an HGU-56 helmet and a pair of AN/AVS-9 NVGs. The goggles clip on to the front of the helmet while a battery pack that provides power to the goggles clips on to the back of the helmet. In addition, the MD-530 helicopters used for training were recently upgraded for better NVG training. The helicopters were modified with radar altimeter upgrades, infrared position lights on the tail and fuselage as well as IR search lights mounted on the belly of the aircraft.
The current class going through NVG training, with eight students, is the largest class as well as only the third class to go through the training at SAB. The air advisors with the 444th AEAS maximize the amount of students processing through the training pipeline by having two classes, each in a different phase of UPT, use the six MD-530 training helicopters at different times of the day.
"The NVG training is everyone's favorite part," said AAF 1st Lt. Mamoond, a pilot trainee. "NVG is fun because we can see everything even in the dark. It's also very challenging, but we like that."
NVG training is just a small part of the intense training that pilots in the AAF go through. Before a pilot trainee can even begin flight training, they must pass rigorous English language training. They are immersed in the English language while living at Thunder Lab, a school and camp within SAB devoted solely to the teaching of English to pilot trainees. The students then go through Initial Flight Screening and four phases of UPT; contact and basic flight training, instrument training, NVG qualification and basic war fighting skills, for a total of 134 hours of training before graduating.
"NVG training is a crucial part of our overall training process," said AAF 2nd Lt. Abdul Satar Shahidani, pilot trainee. "Helicopters are vital to help our Air Force, Army and country because of the unique landing and flying capabilities they have compared to fixed-wing aircraft. And night vision is important to the missions that helicopters must conduct."
Both Lane and Miller agreed that the language barrier is the hardest aspect about NVG training and pilot training in general.
"Trying to find common ground to relate to is extremely difficult," Lane said. "Not only is the language a problem, but base knowledge is also different. There is no way to correlate American and Afghan experiences so it's a challenge to find common ground that you can both relate to."
And although the job brings significant challenges, Miller said he couldn't ask for a better one.
"It's very rare to get an assignment like this," Miller said. "This mission is unique, constantly evolving and truly an honor to be a part of. It's an honor to be able to watch the students from day one, through graduation and beyond. These students are the future of Afghanistan and I'm proud to be a small part of that."