Afghan airmen are giving their country’s government security forces a “lift” in the fight against militants in more ways than one.
The Afghan air force is conducting flying missions daily – sometimes with U.S. Airmen from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Train, Advise, Assist Command – Air (TAAC-Air), and sometimes completely on their own with one of their four C- 130H aircraft.
The flying abilities of the AAF pilots are not surprising to their U.S. counterparts who work with them daily.
“I’m usually instructing from the right seat with an Afghan pilot in the left seat,” said Capt. John Menezes, 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron C-130 instructor pilot. “A lot of the AAF C-130 pilots are experienced pilots. They’re familiar with airplanes and have flown between five and eight other airframes.”
Menezes said most of his instructing with his Afghan counterparts is on instrument flying and C-130 specific items. The AAF flies two types of missions. They have training or proficiency missions and then missions where they are transporting passengers and cargo.
The AAF is fully capable of flying C-130 missions independently, said Col. Thomas Geiser, TAAC-Air deputy commander.
“If you look back a year ago, the AAF has come a long way,” said Geiser. “They didn’t have enough qualified crews, and relied on advisor support to conduct operational lift and training missions. Now, they have three fully qualified crews with their own instructors and evaluators.
“We are very proud of the AAF C-130 crews and their development, as they are demonstrating increasing independence in executing their own missions, training and upgrades.”
Geiser said between June 2015 and May 2016, the AAF C-130s have flown more than 25,000 passengers and nearly 1 million pounds of cargo.
A June 26, 2016, mission saw Menezes in the left seat because his Afghan counterpart is in upgrade training to be an instructor pilot. Since he will be instructing from the right seat, the AAF pilot takes every opportunity available to practice for his training role.
This particular mission was a transportation “down and back” to Camp Shorabak.
Shorabak, formerly Camp Bastion containing Camp Leatherneck, saw a huge coalition presence at its peak. According to a Sept. 12, 2012, Telegraph story, Camp Bastion had 600 flights per day with almost 28,000 troops and civilians working on the base.
On the Sunday of this mission, a single C-208 was on the ramp and took off as the C-130 was taxiing after landing. The C-130 took over as the sole aircraft on the field. The previously giant metropolis resembled a ghost town…or city.
Shortly after arrival, Afghan National Army Ford Rangers, ambulances and small busses showed up. The almost 50 passengers transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport deplaned, and about 50 new passengers boarded for the trip back to Kabul.
Two of the passengers were deceased Afghan fighters. The ANA held a somber Dignified Transfer planeside. Afghan military members made line formations on each side of the ambulance. They saluted as the flag-draped wooden caskets were marched
ceremoniously onto the aircraft. The group closed with a prayer.
At one point as the C-130 was preparing to leave Shorabak, some hopeful passengers were turned away by the AAF because the plane was full. Although the situation appeared tense, the Afghan pilot quickly calmed the crowd and the mission was ready for departure.
The group returned to HKIA and the aircraft was unloaded by ANSF. The passengers in the rear of the aircraft could not have known if the mission was flown by Menezes or the Afghan pilot. Their flying feels similar, and both are skilled pilots.