The final class of Afghan pilots learning to fly the A-29 Super Tucano at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia graduated Nov. 13.
The five-year program of the 81st Fighter Squadron ultimately trained more than 30 student pilots and 70 maintenance technicians serving in the Afghan air force, the U.S. Air Force said in a Tuesday release.
“The 81st truly built this program from the ground up,” said Kelli Seybolt, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, at the graduation ceremony.
The squadron developed both the tactics, techniques and procedures and the 13-month syllabus, and then delivered “full-spectrum training that not only produced combat-ready attack pilots, but also a mindset that prevents civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible,” she said. “This group was one of the strongest classes we had in this program, which is a fitting way to conclude it.”
The program was designed to teach Afghan pilots how to use the A-29, a light attack airplane that can carry out close air support missions, to defend Afghanistan from insurgents such as the Taliban and Islamic State. It marked the first time American pilots and maintainers had been trained as instructors to teach Afghan students in the United States.
The training program will now shift to Afghanistan, where Afghan instructors will take over and teach the nation’s new pilots how to fly the A-29.
“To those who will defend the skies over Afghanistan, I offer my congratulations,” Seybolt said. “Your selfless service and dedication to duty bring great credit upon yourselves, your families, your air force and your country.”
The Air Force delivered four A-29 planes to Afghanistan Friday, just one month after the first Afghan pilots and maintainers for the close-air support aircraft completed their training in the U.S.
Afghan Ambassador to the United States H.E. Roya Rahmani also congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments.
“Their mission is not easy,” Rahmani said. “They are aware of the challenges and responsibilities that it entails. But they also realize it is not only important, but crucial, for future security of our country.”
The first class of eight Afghan pilots and 12 maintainers graduated from the program in December 2015, and a month later, the Air Force delivered four A-29s to Afghanistan. Tuesday’s release did not say how many pilots and maintainers graduated in the last class.
This class finished the 13-month curriculum in less than a year, the release said, and studied night-vision flying, low-level flying and the use of precision-guided munitions.
“They took a year out of their lives — away from their families and colleagues — and dedicated it to the future success of the Afghan air force,” Seybolt said. “Now, thanks to that dedication they are fully capable of executing operations independently or in support of ground forces anywhere in Afghanistan.”
The 81st is a geographically separated unit that is assigned to the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, but physically located at Moody. Brazilian air force advisers and instructors also assisted with the Afghans’ training, and built strong rapport with their American counterparts at the squadron.