Saturday, November 02, 2013

Afghan pilots reach new heights with C-130

An Afghanistan Air Force C-130H sits on the flightline waiting to depart to Afghanistan, Sept. 22, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The Afghanistan Air Force received its first two C-130H aircraft Oct. 9, 2013, from the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)
by Staff Sgt. Caleb Pierce 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark.  -- Team Little Rock Airmen, at home and downrange, are playing an integral role in standing up the Afghanistan Air Force's C-130 capabilities.

Two Afghan pilots completed their nation's first-ever C-130 training flight Sept. 3 here and approximately a month later, Oct. 9, the AAF received its first two C-130H aircraft from the United States.

Little Rock AFB is the home of C-130 Combat Airlift and host's the premiere C-130 formal training unit, which trains students from 46 partner nations, most recently including Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Aimal Sayedi Pacha and Lt. Khial Shinwari were the first from the AAF and Afghanistan to accomplish training and flying a C-130 with the 314th Airlift Wing.

"We are the first from Afghanistan here, and the first from Afghanistan to fly a C-130," said Pacha. "I feel very happy to be part of the training for C-130s and to be the first to come here and be one-step forward to building our air force and to helping our people."

The five-month long training consisted of rigorous academics, simulators and culminated with their first flight followed by several other qualifying flights.

"[This training] will help a lot of us for the future of our air force and for our safety of Afghanistan," said Pacha. "We can use the experience and the new things we learn here to support our troops and support our country."

While the training for the Shinwari and Pacha was a new experience, it fully prepared them for their first flight.

"The training was almost perfect, because whatever we did in the simulator we did in the airplane with just some minor differences," said Shinwari. "The first day I was thinking that when I took off I was still in the simulator because it was the same; everything I learned in the simulator I was doing [on the flight], and the flight was perfect."

After completion of their first flight and the rest of their training, they graduated from the C-130 schoolhouse and returned to Afghanistan to assist their nation in building their C-130 mission.

"I feel so happy and amazed to be the first pilot," said Shinwari. "Sometimes I think to myself, in 10-20 years from now, I can tell my family that I was one of the first guys to fly this airplane."

Although the training for Shinwari and Pacha is complete here, there is still more to learn. NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan will be assisting the AAF until they can operate the aircraft completely on their own.

"Members of the Afghanistan Air Force are going to be training with us for a while," said Maj. Eric McEwen, 714th Training Squadron international military student officer. "The C-130 is a pretty complex plane; it takes a long time to get a C-130 program built up, so NATO is sending teams of trainers there to assist them until they are able to do it on their own."

The training not only helps the AAF, but also, helps build relations with other nations.

"The reason we train with other countries is so we have that interoperability with them, and it's great that we are able to assist them, especially in the case of the Afghans with the defense of their nation," said McEwen. "It is great to be a part of that and just contribute to their national goals and making friendships and partnerships around the world."

The AAF has relied heavily on helicopters for cargo air support over the past year. The capabilities of the new aircraft will help enable the Afghan forces with the same capabilities NATO forces have successfully used to supply military outposts throughout the country of Afghanistan.