An 81st Fighter Squadron instructor pilot flies an A-29 Super Tucano on 5 March 2015 (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)

Feature: Combat ready – training Afghan A-29 pilots

The Afghan Air Force had its first class of eight pilots graduate on 17 December 2015 on its new primary combat aircraft: the Embraer A-29B Super Tucano. They were trained on Moody Air Force Base in the United States by staff of the 81st Fighter Squadron.

In March this year the then student pilots made their first real-life sorties on board the A-29 in the skies of the state of Georgia, a month after classroom training started and two months after the 81st FS was reactivated just for the Afghan Air Force Super Tucano – of which 20 were bought by Washington to equip the Asian country with some sort of fixed-wing air combat element.

Engines started for another combat training mission (Image © Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant / US Air Force)
Engines started for another combat training mission (Image © Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant / US Air Force)
Taxiing at Moody Air Force Base (Image © Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman / US Air Force)
Taxiing at Moody Air Force Base (Image © Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman / US Air Force)
Ready to go! (Image © Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman / US Air Force)
Ready to go! (Image © Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman / US Air Force)

Al-Quada hide-outs in Afghanistan

The White House and Capitol Hill apparently felt an obligation to rebuild the nation’s military after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in reaction to terror airplane attacks in Washington and New York City that destroyed NYC’s World Trade Center and parts of the Pentagon in DC. When the Osama bin Laden led al-Qaeda organisation claimed responsibility the American military went after their hide-outs in Afghanistan and took on the destabilizing Taliban forces in that country as well.

Granted the US for Afghan deal in February 2013 through the US based Sierra Nevada Corporation, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer set up store at Jacksonville in Florida to let US personnel assemble the so-called Light Air Support Aircraft (LAS) in a 40,000 square foot hangar.


RELATED: Overview Afghan Air Force
An Afghan National Army Mil Mi-17V5 (Image © Russian Helicopters)
Check out the Airheadsfly.com overview
of the Afghan Air Force


A-29 backbone

The A-29 Super Tucano will form the backbone of the Afghan Air Force combat element, giving the Afghans something quicker and more versatile to field than the Mil Mi-35 helicopters it is replacing. Training in January started on three machines only, with only a few USAF Airmen. Now that the first eight students have graduated, the 81st FS will continue to train 20 more pilots over the next three years.

Missing students

The training program made headlines in December when two Afghan military personnel failed to show up for work while in the US. The two have been missing since 8 December and when found, will be deported back to Afghanistan, US authorities say.

Spending time on the A-29 simulator is part of the training. A student-pilot is seen here "flying" over Kabul, Afghanistan - his future area of operations (Image © Airman 1st Class Ceaira Tinsley / US Air Force)
Spending time on the A-29 simulator is part of the training. A student-pilot is seen here “flying” over Kabul, Afghanistan – his future area of operations (Image © Airman 1st Class Ceaira Tinsley / US Air Force)

Replacing Mi-35

Shipped to Afghanistan the first A-29s will take up the fight when the Mi-35s are retired in January 2016. This seems all rather quick-quick and it is. In fact, US Air Force Major-General James Hecker, the commander of the 81st Fighter Squadron’s 19th Air Force, acknowledges the Afghan pilots and their American instructors “had to push it” since pilot training on a new aircraft type normally takes two to three years. The Afghan Air Force A-29 pilots had to be ready in 11 months.

Low-cost close-air support

The A-29 is currently considered to be the world’s best low-cost CAS/COIN aircraft, with an operational cost of about 1,000 to 3,000 US dollar per flying hour – use of weapons not included. For a normal attack or fighter aircraft the prize per hour is at least US$ 18,000.

A pair of Super Tucanos in the air over Moody (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)
A pair of Super Tucanos in the air over Moody (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)
The sun illuminates the rear cockpit of an A-29 Super Tucano in flight on 5 March 2015 (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)
The sun illuminates the rear cockpit of an A-29 Super Tucano in flight on 5 March 2015 (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)
An A-29B Super Tucano sits on the flightline during a preflight inspection 8 January 2015, shortly after delivery to Moody (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)
An A-29B Super Tucano sits on the flightline during a preflight inspection 8 January 2015, shortly after delivery to Moody (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)

Largest A-29 customer

Embraer so far delivered around 190 EMB 314/A-29 Super Tucanos of at least 230 aircraft ordered. Largest customer is the Brazilian Air Force, having received 33 A-29A single-seaters and 66 A-29B two-seaters between 2003 and 2012, with so far four aircraft lost in accidents. Worldwide the fleet has logged more than 180,000 flight hours and 28,000 combat hours.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): An 81st Fighter Squadron instructor pilot flies an A-29 Super Tucano on 5 March 2015 (Image © Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan / US Air Force)