By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2008 - U.S. forces transferred ownership of 11 aircraft to the Iraqi air force today during a ceremony at New Al Muthana Air Base here. Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, signed over eight Cessna 172s and three Cessna Caravan 208s worth more than $9 million to Iraqi Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir al-Mufriji.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Brooks L. Bash said the aircraft would be part of the Iraqi air force's training program at Kirkuk Air Base in northern Iraq. Similar to the way the U.S. Air Force conducts its own training, the smaller Cessna 172 is the initial aircraft Iraqi pilots will learn to fly, while the Cessna Caravan 208 is the more advanced, graduated version, the commander of coalition air force training in Iraq added.
In fact, Bash said, the Cessna 172 is the first aircraft he learned to fly almost 33 years ago.
"The Cessna 172 is very special to me, because it was the first aircraft I ever flew," he said. "And still today, it's the first aircraft pilots in the United States Air Force fly, and now it's the first aircraft Iraqi air force pilots will fly."
Bash praised the Iraqi air force for the success it's already had. During the past four months, the air force participated in major coalition operations in Basra and Mosul and in Baghdad's Sadr City district.
The Iraqi air force is an important part of the declining attack levels in those areas and throughout the country, the general noted.
Bash said Iraqi security would continue benefiting from its air force with the new fleet of Cessnas. The additional aircraft will allow more than 130 new pilots to train and graduate each year.
"As of now, the Iraqi air force is just beginning to grow," he said. "They will double in size within the next year, giving them up to 6,000 airmen and 133 aircraft by the end of 2009."
In addition, the King Air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and King Air light transport aircraft were unveiled during the ceremony. The aircraft were purchased by Iraq's Defense Ministry, making the country the first in the world with this type of capability, Bash said.
Bash said the King Air ISR represents the future of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. It provides the latest technology and capabilities in camera-intelligence and surveillance gathering, he added.
The addition of the new aircraft and additional assets to the Iraqi force "signifies the strong partnership between Iraq and United States," he said. "It also represents the strength and growth of Iraqi forces as they continue to fight terrorism and provide security and new capabilities to their country."