News: Afghan pilots fly first fixed wing combat mission
Story by Staff Sgt. Richard Andrade
KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan air force pilots made history Sept. 7, 2013, by flying the first all-AAF fixed wing combat mission from the Kabul International Airport.
The Cessna 208 pilots, assigned to the AAF, 373rd Fixed Wing Squadron, based in Kabul, were trained by advisers assigned to the U.S. Air Force, 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing at the Kabul Air Wing.
“Today is a big day for our squadron,” said AAF 1st Lt. Emal Khairkhwa, a 373rd FWS pilot. “We have been looking forward to this day for a long time. Today we will have an all Afghan crew flying Afghan soldiers for the first time.”
In the past there was one U.S. and one Afghan pilot in the cockpit, today both will be Afghan. The missions will vary for the C-208 pilots. They will help move passengers or cargo throughout Afghanistan and helping with casualty evacuation if the mission requires it.
Khairkhwa said he has more than 700 hundred hours of flight time experience. He is the first pilot in his squadron to be an aircraft commander. He hoped all the pilots would fly safe and will apply what they learned from their mentors. Khairkhwa praised the advisors who helped the AAF for the last couple of months and was looking forward to this day.
One of the advisors, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Kirk, said the day’s event is huge. During the past few months they worked side-by-side making sure the AAF pilots could handle their responsibilities.
“It took a lot of work, they come ready to work every day,” said Kirk. “Today we get to see the fruits of their labor.”
Before boarding the aircraft there was a ceremony attended by the advisors and AAF senior leaders including Afghan Brig. Gen. Mohammed Barat, Kabul Wing Commander of the Afghan air force.
The AAF pilots made history moving forward as Coalition Forces draw down and Afghanistan builds up their air force. Following the ceremony Kirk congratulated the group and told them he was proud of them.
Barat spoke to the AAF pilots and reminded them they are making history as they helped their military become self-reliant. He shook each pilot’s hand as they received their certificates allowing them to be fly C-208. After the ceremony, the crew and their advisors gathered for a group photo.
Kirk said he felt very proud adding that each of the AAF pilots was ready and excited to fly on their own. He said the highlight of the day was when pilots and advisors got together to shake hands following the ceremony.
“You could just feel the cohesiveness,” said Kirk. “With a bond of trust you can do a lot of things.”
Immediately following the ceremony the pilots performed their pre-flight checks on the aircraft as their passengers climbed aboard the C-208. The pilots flew to various parts of Afghanistan transporting cargo and Afghan National Army soldiers. As the last plane taxied down the airstrip, the historic mission marked the first all-AAF fixed wing combat mission to depart from the Kabul Air Wing.