September 18, 2013
By Jim Moore
The fledgling Afghan air force spread its wings and made history on Sept. 7, launching the first fixed-wing combat mission with an all-Afghan crew.
A ceremony was held at Kabul International Airport marking the successful effort to train native pilots to take command of their aircraft. The first group completed initial training in 2012, graduating from Cessna 182s to the Cessna 208s used to transport troops and equipment, medevac, and similar missions. Until Sept. 7, there was always a U.S. pilot on board.
“Today is a big day for our squadron,” Afghanistan Air Force 1st Lt. Emal Khairkhwa told U.S. Air Force public affairs staff documenting the historic day. “We have been looking forward to this day for a long time.”
The U.S. military has been working in recent years to stand up a native Afghan military that will be self-sufficient following the planned departure of American forces next year.
Like all of the Afghan-born pilots trained to date, Khairkhwa had no aviation experience when he began training. He has now logged more than 700 hours. The dedication of the Afghan pilots impressed their American advisors, including U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Kirk.
“It took a lot of work, they come ready to work every day,” Kirk told the public affairs staff covering the Sept. 7 ceremony. “Today we get to see the fruits of their labor.”
The ceremony concluded with five flight crews manning their aircraft and departing for various locations around Afghanistan, mission-ready and, for the first time, on their own.
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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