War on Terrorism

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Peterson hosts Afghan pilots and 81st FS for high altitude training

by Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs

9/22/2015 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Afghan pilots, maintainers and instructor pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. came to Peterson AFB for several weeks in September for high-altitude training in the mountainous terrain.

Since the beginning of 2015, four Afghan pilots have been training with the 81st FS to receive a thorough knowledge and application of flying A-29B Super Tucanos, As well as the inner workings of U.S. Air Force fighter squadrons to use the same infrastructure as they stand up their own squadron when they get back to Afghanistan.

The 81st FS is a stateside air advisor unit with a deployed mission, said Lt. Col. Jeff Hogan, 81st FS commander. When the first group of Afghan pilots and maintainers finish their year-long training, the 81st FS will send Air Force pilots and maintainers to Afghanistan for support.

We'll have a constant rotational presence in Afghanistan, helping mentor them as they stand up this new capability," he said.

The end result of this training is for Afghanistan to have its own air force that can sustain itself. Hogan said the U.S. partnered with the NATO coalition since the initial invasion and is in a good position to help train the pilots.

"There are other nations that could have done it, but we certainly have the capacity and the know-how on how to train our international partners," Hogan said. "It's a core (Air Education and Training Command) competency. We train thousands of international students a year."

The training the Afghan pilots get will help them stand up their own sustainable fighter squadron and be able to provide aerial fire support for their ground forces, Hogan said. To achieve that, the 81st FS is training them on four different missions, including close air attack, air interdiction, helicopter and convoy escort, and armed reconnaissance.

The aircraft the pilots trained on will go with them to Afghanistan when the pilots return home at the end of their training, said an 81st FS instructor pilot. It will replace the old Mi-35 attack helicopter that is nearing the end of its service life and doesn't have the capability of the A-29.

The training so far has been at Moody Air Force Base, which has an elevation of around 200 feet and doesn't compare to the high elevation in Afghanistan, he said. To get the pilots more realistic training, they came to Peterson.

As with any mechanical equipment, performance is lower at a higher altitude, the instructor pilot said. The air is less dense and has fewer molecules, so aircraft take longer to accelerate and it's more difficult to get off the ground. Peterson provides the high elevation and rising terrain for Afghan pilots to gain the necessary experience before going back to Afghanistan.

"Peterson afforded us some great facilities," said Hogan. "We're very thankful for the support we've received here. This is probably the place that most closely approximated (Afghanistan) and what we were trying to do. We received a very warm welcome and we were thankful to get that."

Hogan said the most satisfying part of this training is knowing they're building another county's air force and the pilots are going to do well because of the training they received.

"This airplane will allow us to truly start to step away from Afghanistan," Hogan said. "When they can provide their own organic fires, support their own soldiers in the field and provide them with close air support capabilities - that will be the major turning point that allows our country to disengage."

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