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First Afghan pilot class completes flight screening course

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A group of seven Afghan officers continued their journey to earn pilot wings by passing their first flight screening course Feb. 2 at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan.

The officers are attending the first undergraduate pilot training held exclusively inside Afghanistan in more than 30 years. The flight screening course consisted of 22 flights in a Cessna 182, nine simulator flights and 25 hours of academics. The last flight in the course was a supervised solo flight where the students were in full control of the aircraft on the mission.

The pilot candidates, from provinces throughout Afghanistan, are graduates from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan as well as Initial Officer Training, held in the United Kingdom and since graduation have been enrolled in the Kabul English Language Training Center where they've studied and developed the English language needed to fly.

The students passed this portion of training with flying colors said Lt. Col. James Bands, the 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander.

"Up to this point, the students have performed very well," he said. "The dedication and commitment they have shown in their academic studies has been remarkable. On the first test they received, six of the seven scored a 100 percent and the seventh scored a 96 percent."

The colonel said that the progress the students have been making closely mirrors the progress students would make in classes in the U.S. Four of the students will go on to train in the MD-530 helicopter and eventually to the MI-17. The other three students will continue down the fixed wing path and fly the C-27 Spartan upon graduation.

Bands said the training hasn't been an easy process and there have been significant hurdles to overcome along the way.

"The biggest challenges so far have been working out of temporary facilities until the phase one building at Shindand (Air Base) is complete," he said. "Right now, all of the classroom work is being completed out of tents near the flightline. Our civil engineers here at Shindand (Air Base) have done a remarkable job of being flexible and giving us facilities to train the students."

Bands said he enjoys working with the students and he will always look back fondly on helping the students navigate their journey to pilot wings.

"So far this has been a very rewarding assignment for me," he said. "The opportunity to mentor and build another country's air force is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that I will always be able to look on with pride."

Article by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs