TIKRIT AIR BASE, Iraq: For the past six months, Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission-Air Force air advisers with the 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron have been training Iraqi pilots to become T-6 Texan II instructor pilots to rebuild the Iraqi air force.
“The 52nd (EFTS) stood up this year for T-6 flight operations,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Hanson, the ITAM-AF director and 321st Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “It’s an expeditionary flying training squadron teaching the Iraqi instructor-pilot candidates who are going through pilot-instructor training. Our concept at that venue is to build their instructor-pilot corps first, before they incorporate that platform into their overall pilot training pipeline.”
Air advisers here are responsible for training instructor pilot candidates and advising the Iraqi airmen on building the training program necessary to set their air force up for success in the years to come.
“Our job is to help the Iraqis start the foundation of their pilot training program,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Myer, the 52nd EFTS’ first operations officer who recently redeployed. “Basically, we’re advising and training them to start building their pilot training program back up as they rebuild their air force.”
Colonel Myer arrived one year ago with two other instructor pilots and no aircraft to set up the training squadron. Now they have 11 aircraft and a squadron of pilot trainees.
“We have a great operating area here,” Colonel Myer said. “We have airspace, pattern procedures; all those things that didn’t exist when we got here and it’s really satisfying as I look back to see we went from nothing to a great training program, and it’s only going to get better.”
As they move through T-6 training, air advisors will give them critical advice for when they become instructors, but ultimately the instructor training is the next phase, once they learn to fly the T-6.
“We essentially adapt what they already know to the T-6 and the high-performance, two-seat aspect of flying,” said Capt. Ryan Smith, the 52nd EFTS student flight commander. “It’s an initial learn how to fly, and the next stage is when they transition over to what we call a ‘PIT’ syllabus, which is pilot instructor training. That’s where we actually teach them how to teach what they’ve learned, which is a different ball game.”
As the advisors conduct training nearly 7,000 miles from home, pilot training in Iraq is strikingly comparable to that in America, but with key differences including the language barrier, cultural differences and the fact their mission is conducted in a combat zone.
“The training environment isn’t nearly as stable as we’d like it to be,” Captain Smith said. “In the U.S., we have a very structured program and eliminate many variables. However, when we train here in a combat zone, we don’t control all those variables quite as well. We have to be a lot more flexible.”
But as long as they are here they have a mission to complete before Dec. 31, 2011, when all U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq. The goal is to develop, with the Iraqi air force, a successful flying T-6 training program.
“As long as we’re here, our job is to set them up with the best pilot training program that we can offer,” Captain Smith said. “So ideally, as we get closer and closer to end of mission, we’re handing more and more of the pilot training over to the Iraqis, who we’re training right now. Within the next year, we’ll step back further and further to the point they will be running the briefings, making the schedules and training the new student pilots as it come in.”
Training with the U.S. air advisors, combined with the chance to become an instructor pilot in the Iraqi air force excites current students.
“I’m happy I get this chance to be an instructor,” said 2nd Lt. Issa Amen, a Iraqi Training Squadron No. 3 student pilot. “American pilots are the best pilots in the world, this is the truth. We get a chance to get our training from the best pilots.”
“It’s a very good opportunity for us to work with American advisors,” said Lt. Col. Hamid Hussein, the Training Squadron No. 3 commander. “All of them are very experienced, very good people, very easy to work with and they are providing everything they can in helping to build the Iraqi air force.”
The excitement the Iraqis have for their air force is shared by their air advisors. Colonel Myer said he is excited to see it being rebuilt.
“It’s an awesome experience to take them through it and be with them from the beginning,” he said. “To just see the smile on the Iraqi maintainers as they see this airplane is great. They see that it says ‘Iraqi air force’ on it. That’s a symbol to them that their air force is being rebuilt. It’s a great reward to see that and their enthusiasm.”