News: First flight a success for future Afghan Flying Air Crew Chiefs
Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jared Walker
SHINDAND, Afghanistan - Four Afghan air force airmen attached to the Kandahar Air Wing recently flew their first flights as part of the inaugural flying air crew chiefs course in Shindand.
The month-long course pairs United States Air Force flying air crew chiefs and Afghan crew chief trainees and focuses on the operational capability of the MI-17 transport helicopter. Classroom instruction includes discussions about crew resource management, general purpose machine gun and M-240 training and pre-flight and post-flight briefs. The goal of the course is for Afghans to become independent flying crew chiefs aboard operational flights.
Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Morford, a NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan flying crew chief air advisor, stressed the importance of the first flight.
“This is a huge milestone for the Afghan Air Force because they can now build pictures for the pilots and describe what’s going in the back of the helicopter keeping everyone in place aboard the aircraft. For example, if they have commandos onboard, they would give them calls such as we’re “20 minutes out, be ready, we’re 10 minutes out, be ready.” The tail of the helicopter would then open up and they would clear the commandos off the aircraft. Once the commandos are off, they would ensure the commandos are clear of the landing zone,” Morford said.
To prepare themselves for the first flight, the group focused on academics and also used essential equipment such as headsets, glasses, gloves and gunner’s belts for the first time.
“Every time the aircraft moves left or right, the crew chiefs clear the aircraft because the pilots can’t see behind them. This is important because when in a pattern it’s critical the crew chiefs are always looking out for other aircraft,” Morford said.
AAF Staff Sgt. Mohammad Shafi, one of the students, spoke about the significance of the flight.
“This was our first flight and we all felt good about it. We did very well and our advisors thought so too. It is important for us to know about this job so when we go to Kandahar we can do it properly. We will need to pass on this information because one day we might be instructing others about how to be flight crew chiefs,” said Shafi.
Shafi went on to explain how the training was informative while describing how he looks forward to the rest of the training where the team will learn other things like firing weapons and how to defend the aircraft. He said that he and his fellow students are ready to learn so they can become flying crew chiefs.
Morford explained that normally there are weapons on the aircraft, which are the first defense when flying, but because they don’t have weapons presently the students are instructed on professional military knowledge until weapon mounts arrive.
“Part of the job for these future flying air crew chiefs is to take care of the people on their flight. They ensure everybody is safe and secure during the duration of the flight” said Morford. “The crew chiefs act as the conduit between the pilots and passengers. Once you get past the line between the flight engineers and the door, the flying crew chiefs own the back of the aircraft.”
The importance of the flying air crew chief is also critical during times of natural disaster. Flooding is a concern in Afghanistan because of heavy monsoon rains and flying air crew chiefs are critical in providing aid.
“If flooding occurs, these professionals would be stacking food, water and clothing for the people affected by the flood. They would deal with medical evacuations and would also go to points of injury, pick up people, load them onboard and make sure they are secure. Again, they take care of the defense of the aircraft in and out of the zone so everyone gets out of the area safely,” said Sergeant Morford.
Recently, the hard work paid off as the flying crew chiefs participated in a training exercise that saw an Afghan pilot at the controls of the aircraft, an Afghan flight engineer maintaining the aircraft as well as the flight crew chiefs adding to that team.
“My partner, Staff Sgt. Justin Shults and I were doing high-fives because the flying crew chiefs are doing the job themselves. This is phenomenal for us because this is what they are here for. This is the first step to make Shindand look similar to Kirtland, Air Force Base. Flight engineers and gunners train at Kirtland and we want to build that kind of atmosphere at Shindand and that’s exactly what took place. What occurred today was very big,” explained Morfod.