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Iraqi air force flying training school opens at Kikuk

by Staff Sgt. Jared Marquis
506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

10/5/2007 - KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN)  -- The Iraqi air force flying training school opened its doors Oct. 1 and began to train Iraqi aviators with the assistance of American Airmen.

The planning for the school has been in the works for approximately two years and is all part of the plan to return Kirkuk Air Base back to the Iraqi air force, said Lt. Col. Mark Bennett, the 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron commander.

"Kirkuk may be the first air base returned to Iraqi control," he said.

The colonel said that is one of the reasons for standing up the 52nd EFTS and the training school here. The 52nd EFTS mission is vital to the future of the Iraqi air force.

"What we are doing here is going to allow Iraqis to provide security for their country," he said.

The initial class will have 10 students and two Cessna-172 aircraft, but that is just the start, Colonel Bennett said.

"As time goes on, we are going to grow. Our goal is to graduate 160 pilots a year -- 80 fixed wing pilots and 80 rotary wing pilots. By the end of next year, the Iraqi air force expects to have 12 Cessna-172s, five Cessna-208s, 12 Bell Jet Rangers, 10 Huey IIs and nine Mi-17 aircraft," Colonel Bennett said.

But the U.S. Air Force and Army members currently training the students can't handle that load by themselves.

"We are not only training new pilots here, we are training former Iraqi air force pilots to be instructor pilots as well," Colonel Bennett said. "In addition, we are training the Iraqis to perform all the functions of a flying operation to include aircraft maintenance, intelligence, logistics, etc. As time goes on, the Iraqi instructors will take over the classes and we will move from an instructor role to an advisory role."

In preparation for the first class of pilots, the instructors are working on putting together more than 130 hours of intense classroom instruction.

"With the help of Air Education and Training Command and the Iraqi air force, we are building the syllabus and lesson plans from the ground up, and we are doing most of it here," the colonel said. "It is not like at home base, where we have access to multiple resources. All the members of the 52nd EFTS and Iraqi air force are doing a great job with what they have to work with." 

The training the Iraqi Air Force has received so far has been well received, Colonel Bennett said.

"Since I have been here, I have seen a significant amount of progress from the Iraqi air force," he said. "It's amazing to see them so willing to learn and take what we teach them and pass it along to others. It's definitely a historic endeavor and I'm very fortunate to be part it." 

The Iraqi air force gets closer to its ultimate goal every day, Colonel Bennett said.

"Together with the Iraqis and our sister services, the 52nd will help ensure Iraq has the ability to project military power quickly throughout its territory in order to protect the Iraqi sky, citizens and its borders," he said. 

(Senior Airman Jeremy McGuffin of the 506th AEG Public Affairs contributed to this story) 

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