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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)

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)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The state motto is “Colorful Colorado,” and the geography lives up to the description. When people think of Colorado they think of beautiful vistas and rugged mountainscapes.

When people think of Afghanistan, most people envision dry, arid and desert land at the feet of craggy mountain peaks that are nothing like Colorado. Surprisingly, the two areas 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 Air Force Base training six Afghan air force pilots to fly A-29 Super Tucano aircraft. The Afghanis 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, director of operations for the 81st FS. The mean elevation for Afghanistan is 6,181 feet and for Colorado it is 6,800 feet, so Peterson is a match for high-density altitude training.

“Moody is not like Afghanistan,” Cleveland said. “Colorado Springs is similar terrain and the targets are similar. The whole point of this trip is to get them flying around.”

The half-dozen Afghani pilots in training now represent, roughly, the halfway point in the program. Experienced Afghani pilots who want to fly the A-29 are selected for the program. 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, said Cleveland.

The A-29 is a turboprop aircraft designed for light attack, counter insurgency, close air support, 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 Afghani A-29 pilots took place in April.

Two hour training sorties take off from Peterson in both morning and afternoon flights. 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.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui