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Colorado stands in for Afghanistan during pilot training

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – An Afghanistan air force pilot, right, joins his trainer for a morning sortie of high-density altitude training in an A-29 Super Tucano aircraft at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Aug. 24, 2016. The Afghanis are participating in a program training 30 pilots and 90 maintainers for the aircraft, which will be used mainly for close air support functions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

An Afghanistan Air Force pilot, right, joins his trainer for a morning sortie of high-density altitude training in an A-29 Super Tucano at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Aug. 24, 2016. The Afghan Air Force is participating in a program training 30 pilots and 90 maintainers for the aircraft, which will be used mainly for close air support functions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- The beautiful vistas and rugged mountainscapes of Colorado and Afghanistan are so similar that training for warfighting in one is done in the other.

The 81st Fighter Squadron from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, spent two weeks at Peterson AFB training six Afghan Air Force pilots to fly A-29 Super Tucano. The pilots are participating in a program that began in 2015 and will ultimately train 30 pilots and 90 maintainers through 2018. Most training takes place at Moody AFB, but the area’s geography doesn’t replicate Afghanistan.

Colorado Springs is a good fit in simulating conditions the pilots will face back home in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Ryan Cleveland, the director of operations for the 81st FS. The mean elevation for Afghanistan is 6,181 feet and 6,800 feet for Colorado, making Peterson AFB a match for high-density altitude training.

The half-dozen Afghanistan Air Force pilots currently in training represent roughly the halfway point in the program. Experienced Afghan pilots who want to fly the A-29 are selected for the program and after completing language school they enter the training phase for 12-14 months. At the end of training they return home and fly the exact aircraft they trained with, Cleveland said.

The A-29 is a turboprop aircraft designed for light attack, counter insurgency, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance missions. Twenty of the aircraft will be delivered to the Afghan Air Force by 2018. The first close air support missions carried out by U.S. trained Afghan A-29 pilots took place in April 2016.

Practice and training sessions are carried out in southern Colorado utilizing the Airburst Military Operations Area and the Two Buttes MOA.

“We want to say thank you to Peterson for the hospitality,” Cleveland said. “It’s great that they gave us space to work in and (they are) sharing their air space.”

The recent training visit in Colorado Springs is the third time the 81st FS used the base to meet the specific needs required to successfully train pilots from Afghanistan.

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