Shindand, Afghanistan - The first three aircraft slated as initial trainers for the Afghan air force undergraduate pilot training program arrived here Sept. 18, marking a milestone for the Afghan Flight School.
Three Cessna 182 Turbos are the first of six to be used as initial flight-training aircraft, with six additional Cessna 208B Caravans scheduled to arrive later as fixed-wing, follow-on trainers.
In addition to the fixed-wing program, there will be six MD 530 helicopters delivered later this year, officials said. These aircraft, along with six Mi-17 helicopters, will be used for advanced follow-on training. The initial training program instructor cadre is staffed by Air Force, coalition and Afghan instructors.
In 2009, Afghanistan Ministry of Defense officials selected its first group of pilot candidates, officials said. Without training resources or facilities of their own, the future pilots were sent to the U.S. where they were enrolled in language immersion training, followed by Air Force undergraduate pilot training.
"Six years ago, we had nothing, and today, we are receiving our first three training aircraft," said Maj. Gen. Abdul Wahab Wardak, the Afghan air force commander. "I once looked out to see our air force scattered across Afghanistan; today, we have brought our air force back together here at Shindand (Air Base) -- the only air force training base in Afghanistan."
Shindand AB will not only be the center for pilot training but will eventually serve as the training center for much of the AAF, officials said. Included in the training center will be maintenance, language and professional military education, as well as training and support functions for nearly 1,400 Shindand Air Wing airmen.
"This is a huge task, developing an entire UPT program from the ground-up, to include infrastructure, aircraft, maintenance and personnel," said Lt. Col. James Mueller, the 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander. "It is of the utmost importance to ensure it is done right in order to establish long-term sustainment of the AAF. One of the most obvious signs of the importance of the mission and the long-term impact it will have on the AAF is the international coalition support you see here (in Shindand). The U.S., Italian and Hungarian air forces, as well as the U.S. Army and civilians, are working hand-in-hand with our Afghan counterparts to ensure the future success of Shindand AB."
During the ceremony, Col. John Hokaj, the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group commander, reminded attendees of Afghanistan's history and the commitment of the coalition forces.
"Throughout history, Afghanistan has seen many external powers come with the purpose of gaining access to resources, trade routes and markets," Hokaj said. "The mission of NATO and (its) coalition partners is vastly different. Our objective is to set the conditions for irreversible transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership."