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Small aircraft, big perspective -- the scale of Afghan Air Force progress

  • Published
  • By Capt. Agneta Murnan
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Across Afghanistan, a 16 nation team is working to help the country re-grow its Air Force, first established in 1924. I was able to be part of that team for a year, traveling the country and partnering with Afghan Airmen to develop the institutions, practices and expertise needed to support Afghan national security requirements now, and in the future.

Standing next to me in a dinner line was a newly arrived maritime service member, debating the merits of a logistical system involving a massive network of bridges spanning the country. I marveled at the ideas. Thousands of bridges. Some bridges would have to be constructed at 12,000 feet above valleys, miles across from one peak to another. Had he ever seen Afghanistan from the air? Had he felt an earthquake, or heard about the avalanches yet? Afghanistan's landscape is like a compressed accordion of land masses. Even with a powerful truck engine along twisting roadways, did he realize one could travel miles around the crinkled rock, before ever traveling a single nautical mile west?

This is why seeing is believing, I thought.

Many passengers travel too high and too fast to see the dimensions of the country's landscape. Or they use the time to catch up on much needed sleep. In my job, I was fortunate to travel on both the Cessna 208B and the MD530 helicopter, which are both small, lower-flying aircraft on the contemporary spectrum. But it was in these aircraft, I was able to see what amazing things the Afghan Air Force is accomplishing with many small trips across the country: like resupplying the outermost Afghan Border Police and delivering immunizations to remote villages with disease outbreaks such as the measles.

The Cessna 208B can move nine passengers, with varying passenger and cargo configurations. Skimming across the mountain tops, I passed snow-dusted peaks at almost eye level. In the maneuverable MD530 helicopter, I was able to appreciate the topography angles near Shindand Air Base, Heart, where the Afghan student pilots practice keeping a steady distance from the uneven terrain. The helicopter was not skimming the peaks. I felt like a jolly giant roving up, down and around the foothills and ridges.

I never yearned to be a pilot myself, but in these moments in flight, I defined new understandings of airpower. The number of times I had traveled by air, over the continental U.S. and Europe,  must number in the hundreds. But it was only through the lower, slower flight, that I was able to appreciate how much the Afghan Air Force was accomplishing by moving personnel and supplies, one mountain and skilled technician at a time.

I have been inspired at air shows in the U.S and abroad, watching the world's jets execute tight turns at astounding speeds. But by staring out from two slower, smaller birds, I measured some remarkable progress in Afghanistan - this time to scale.