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Sat, May 06, 2006

Airmen To Help Train Iraqi Air Force Pilots Fly Again

Providing Maintenance, Training, And Organizational Help

Pilots from the Iraqi Air Force are being assisted by a team of airmen from Edwards Air Force Base, CA, to get them up in the air and flying again.

The mission of the Iraqi 3rd Squadron hinges on the work of the Air Force Flight Test Center. As Aero-News reported last month, the center sent a team of maintainers, engineers and pilots to Iraq to test the airworthiness of the Iraqi Air Force's fleet of Comp Air 7SLX aircraft.

Several of the kit-built airplanes were given to the Iraqis as a gift from the United Arab Emirates -- but due many modifications made to the aircraft, they were deemed unsafe to fly.

The aircraft were grounded in January after the Air Force flight test evaluation team determined the aircraft were unsafe in their present condition. Now, with the work accomplished by a 20-person team from various bases possessing essential Air Force Specialty Codes, one aircraft is ready to fly again.

The team was able to rebuild the aircraft and make it safe to fly. After a successful first flight on April 25, the team will return here in May to fix the other aircraft assigned here. Then these Iraqi aircrews can take flight once again.

"Part of the mission here is surveillance and reconnaissance of the northern oil pipeline to protect it from attacks by insurgents and to check for tampering and leaks," said Capt. Anthony Brim, Coalition Air Force Transition Team. "In addition, they will be able to assist the Iraqi Army in the search for insurgents."

Currently the squadron is undergoing a rigorous schedule of academics to prepare them for the transition into a fully functioning, independent air force. Captain Brim is teaching the Iraqis how to maintain an operational squadron, which is a change from the way business was normally done. They are overhauling the squadron in much the same way the Edwards team is overhauling the aircraft.

"We completely reorganized the squadron. There was no hierarchy -- no one in charge of maintenance, training or safety," Captain Brim said. "We were able to set up the squadron to mirror the structure of a squadron in the US Air Force and assign section and duty chiefs who are given the authority to make decisions."

Captain Brim’s experience as an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot allowed him to transform the squadron into a functioning unit. He started a daily schedule of operations, including training and inspections.

"I used the ‘big hand’ theory," he explained. "In the beginning I was the big hand guiding everything. I showed them the standards and what was expected. Within the first month, the squadron had structure and they were operating on their own."

Now the captain has taken on an advisory role.

Captain Brim said the Iraqis are making the decisions while he only added his inputs to make their progress more efficient.

"The (Iraqi Air Force) members here, whether they are pilots or maintainers, are professionals. They are educated and know the change they are going through is for the good," he said. "They can see the long term and they are pushing for it."

The change they are striving for is on the horizon, according to Colonel Ali from the Iraqi Air Force. (Full names are not used due to security concerns.)

Colonel Ali said there are people in the country who do not want to see a liberated Iraq, and that these people will kill those associated with the new government. Colonel Ali, like the other 15 pilots in the squadron, served under Saddam Hussein. He said he wants to see his country rise again and be better than it was under the old regime.

"This is our country and we want to change it," he said. "We were a wealthy nation but Saddam made us poor. Now we have freedom and we want to rebuild our country."

Colonel Ali said that since Saddam Hussein didn’t allow the country to prosper, Iraq needs to rebuild everything to a higher standard than before. He also said Iraq isn’t ready to walk alone and the United States is still needed to help them.

"I know America helps rebuild countries and I know they can do that for us," he said. "I know what they did for Germany and Japan after World War II and I know they are trying to do the same thing with Iraq. I see the economies of both countries and see how they are prospering. I know we can be better because we are a wealthy country. We can come back better than before."

"We have to be positive and optimistic about our future and we must rebuild our infrastructure. Our government must be in one hand to go forward," he said. "It will take time to have peace in Iraq but Iraq and America must work as brothers to achieve this." 

(ANN salutes Staff Sgt. Kristina Barrett, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs)



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