Giving them Wings to Fly

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that as part of effort to add impetus to the fight against insurgency and other internal security operations in the country, the 13 Nigerian Air Force pilots who recently completed their flying training abroad were decorated with the prestigious NAF wing, thus bringing to 101, the total number of winged pilots in the last four years

In the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), there are a new breed of high flyers. Recently, at the Air Marshal MD Umar Blue Room at NAF headquarters in Abuja, they were given wings to fly as all 13 of the youngest NAF pilots were winged (a pair of stylised bird’s wings worn as insignia by qualified pilots) after the successful completion of their respective flying training courses.

The winging brought to 101, the total number of personnel winged in the last four years, which is an unprecedented move in the history of NAF, thus reinforcing the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar’s drive to improve the professionalism of NAF personnel through deliberate and targeted specialist trainings.

To the layman, what is the big deal about winging of pilots? A lot, those who know enthuse. With the increasing number of pilots that will dot the nation’s territorial airspace, this has added impetus to the unconventional fight against insurgency and other internal security operations in the country.

All members of the 62 Regular Course (RC), the winged pilots includes Flying Officer MA Sidi, member of the 62 regular course, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 22/44, Gazelle S-341, Bell-206 and AW109E aircrafts; Flying Officer A Sharu, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 22/44, Gazelle S-341, Bell-206 aircrafts; Flying Officer JT Omobowale, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 66, AS365 Dauphin and Cabriguimbal G2CA aircrafts; and Flying Officer CE Iroegbulam who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 66, Cabriguimbal G2CA and AS365 Dauphin aircrafts.

Other include Flying Officer Abubakar Usman, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 22/44, Gazelle S-341, and Bell-206 aircrafts; Flying Officer M Abubakar, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 22/44, Gazelle S-341, and Bell-206 aircrafts; Flying Officer PP Karimo, who is rated on the Augusta 109E, DA40NG, Robinson 66, Gazelle S-341, and Bell-206 aircrafts; Flying Officer MO Uzoma, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 22/44, Gazelle S-341 and Bell-206 aircrafts; Flying Officer A Salau, who is rated on the DA40NG, Robinson 66, Cabriguimbal G2CA and AS365 Dauphin aircrafts; Flying Officer KE Omoragbon, who is rated on the Cabriguimbal G2CA, Augusta 109E, DA40NG, Robinson 66 and AS365 Dauphin aircrafts.

Girl Power
Not taking anything away from their male counterparts who were also winged same day, the highlight of the occasion was the winging of NAF’s first female fighter and first combat helicopter pilots, Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, and Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile respectively. That in itself was testament to the premium the NAF under the present CAS places on the feminine gender.

This achievement is quite instructive given that the world has started paying attention to the female. Little wonder this year’s theme of the recently marked 2019 International Day of the Girl was themed “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable”, all targeted at encouraging the girl-child to keep shattering the glass ceiling.

But it was not just about the young girls. During the ceremony, the NAF also decorated the first female Air Warrant Officer (AWO) in the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Grace Garba, with her new rank. AWO Garba was promoted to the highest rank in the Non-Commissioned Officers’ cadre for her exceptional hard work and contributions to the service over the years.

Highlights by the CTOP
In his address, the Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP), Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, said as it is customary in the NAF within the past four years, another set of 13 student pilots were winged. Breaking it down further he said six of the student pilots were trained at Westline Aviation Limited, South Africa and another six officers including the first female helicopter pilot in the NAF were trained at Starlite International Training Academy, South Africa. He also added that the first female fighter pilot trained at Columbus Air Force Base United States of America.

These new pilots, he said would no doubt boost the pilot manning needs of the service as their deployment to the various NAF platforms would enhance the fulfillment of the constitutional roles of the NAF especially in the ongoing operations in the North-east and North-west.

He said: “The 13 pilots winged today comprise 12 helicopter and one fixed wing pilots. The first ever female fighter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force was trained at the United States Air Force under the prestigious Aviation Leadership Programme from January 31, 2018 to August 16, 2019. Similarly, the officers that attended Westline Aviation Limited, South Africa commenced their flying training on August 20, 2018 and completed the course on September 10, 2019, while the flying training for the Nigerian Air Force Student Pilots at Starlite International Training Academy in South Africa was conducted from August 9, 2018 to October 12, 2019.

“It is worthy of mention that four of these officers, while training in South Africa undertook the A109P helicopter initial type rating training in Italy, thereby becoming operational before the completion of flying training. This is a unique achievement in the history of the Nigerian Air Force. All this points to the fact that the 13 officers have gone through the rigours of flying training and their inclusion into the elite pilot corps would no doubt enhance pilot disposition especially as the NAF is inducting additional platforms.”

Premium on Training
According to the CTOP, as part of its quest for continuous training, the NAF will continue to collaborate with allied countries to train personnel to meet her operational needs.

This premium on training he said is one of the key drivers of the Chief of Air Staff, which is ‘Human Capacity development through robust and result oriented training for enhanced professional performance’. Thus, he added that the NAF will continue to train personnel to meet her professional needs, particularly, the need for more pilots to man the ever-increasing platforms in the NAF inventory.

He said: “As we speak, there are 12 student pilots undergoing training in the United States of America comprising; two at the United States Air Force for the Undergraduate Pilot Training and 10 student pilots at Civic Helicopters undergoing Basic Helicopter training while two student pilots are currently undergoing basic flying training at the Indian Air Force.

“Also, four student pilots are being processed for combat helicopter pilots training at the United States Army Aviation, Fort Rucker. Furthermore, 10 student pilots have been processed for Military-Style Rotary Wing Pilot Training at Cobham Aviation Services in the United Kingdom. Most of the trainings are tailored towards ensuring that the pilots on graduation are mission ready.

“All these are in addition to trainings in other Air Force specialties at home and abroad. It is worthy of mention that the NAF under the leadership of Air Marshal Sadiq Baba Abubakar has trained 22,841 personnel comprising 2,414 foreign trained and 20,427 locally trained personnel in different specialties in the last four years.

“This is unprecedented in the history of NAF. All these goes to reinforce the CAS’ drive to improve the professionalism of Nigerian Air Force personnel through deliberate and targeted specialist trainings.

Milestone
Like a proud father, the CAS was on ground to oversee the winging ceremony. In his remarks, the CAS reiterated that the pilots were winged because they had completed their flying training abroad and qualified for the award of the prestigious NAF wing.

He said: “Today indeed marks another milestone in the history of the NAF and I am gratified to be part of it. I am particularly happy because out of the 13 pilots to be winged are two female Regular Combatant officers. Not only because they are female officers, but they are also outstanding aviators. While one of the two pilots is the first female fighter pilot in the 55 years history of the NAF, the second one is the first female combat helicopter pilot in the history of the service.

“The first female fighter pilot trained at the United States Air Force following an excellent performance during her initial flying training course at 401 Flying Training School in Kaduna, while the second graduated from Starlite International Training Academy. They both performed excellently well during their training.

“It is common knowledge that of all resources available to a leader or manager, the human resource is the most important. This is because the human resource drives all other resources pursuant to the attainment of organisational objectives. It is predicated on this consideration that the NAF spares nothing at developing its human resource capital. This desire for excellence is even more compelling in the face of current and perceived future national security challenges.

“Accordingly, NAF has continued to invest in human capacity building, since the service is a veritable instrument for maintenance of national security. The NAF will continue to discharge her constitutional responsibility of protecting Nigeria’s sovereignty and integrity by air. Our records indicate that as at today, we have trained a total of 67 Instructor pilots since 2015. Furthermore, with the winging of these pilots today, the NAF would have winged a total of 101 pilots within the same period.

“Currently, we have 61 pilots undergoing ab-initio/basic flying training, while 50 are undergoing various forms of advanced flying training courses both locally and abroad. As such we are highly delighted to see the rewards of our collective efforts. I am confident that the NAF and indeed Nigeria will soon be reaping the benefits that these pilots would undoubtedly add to our operations.

“Let me equally appreciate our credible partners, the United States Air Force as well as Starlite International Training Academy and Westline Aviation Academy who trained these young pilots. We look forward to more fruitful collaborations. At this point, I want to reassure all Nigerians that the Nigerian Air Force remains fully committed to the successful execution of its constitutional roles and will strive to continually meet its statutory responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of the nation, acting singly or jointly with our sister Services and other security agencies.”

Consolidation

Not resting on his oars, the CAS is out to consolidate on the gains on ground already. He said: “In a bid to consolidate on our gains on the fighter aircraft stream and our force projection outlook, all hands have been on deck to increase the number of serviceable L-39ZA aircraft for basic fighter training. Also, increased serviceability of the A-Jets has inspired continuous advance fighter training locally.

“More so, with the NAF preparing to receive two additional helicopter gunships, our counterinsurgency efforts will soon be greatly enhanced. Furthermore, it is envisaged that with the induction of the Super Tucano A29 aircraft into the NAF inventory, our fighter training efforts will also be greatly enhanced. All these are complemented by ongoing efforts at reactivating grounded aircraft locally with our technical partners, which has improved our maintenance capabilities and afforded our technicians the opportunity to benefit from on-the-job training. These achievements have saved the nation scarce resources.”

SGOH’s Commendation
Speaking at the event, the Special Guest of Honor (SGOH), the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Dame Pauline Tallen, who expressed happiness at the history made by the winging of the female pilots said: “I am particularly happy that history is being made here with the winging of the first ever female fighter pilot as well as the first ever female combat helicopter pilot produced by the Nigerian Air Force. It attests to the laudable achievements and transformation taking place in the Nigerian Air Force.

“ It also portrays the Nigerian Air Force positively as it has shown that it is an equal opportunity establishment that encourages all its personnel to achieve excellence in their career. It is obvious that the chief of air staff is providing the right leadership and guidance to ensure the realisation of the primary key driver of his vision, which is hinged on human capacity development. We are indeed proud of the milestones reached by the NAF and the achievements of the Chief of the Air Staff.

“I am aware that with this winging ceremony, the Nigerian Air Force would have winged a total of over 110 pilots since the inception of his administration. This is indeed worthy of commendation and further demonstrates the preparedness of the Nigerian Air Force towards meeting our national security needs. I am convinced that the pilots winged today will put in their best and contribute their quota towards consolidating the success attained in eliminating current security challenges in the North-east and North-west as well as communal clashes, kidnapping and armed banditry.”

Charge to the Winged Pilots
To whom much is given, much is expected and so to the young pilots, Tallen charged them to add value to the nation. She said: “To young pilots winged, I heartily congratulate you on your accomplishments and for coming this far in your career. There is no doubt that today is a special day in your lives and those of your families. Their support, no doubt, must have helped you remain courageous, determined and focused towards crossing the hurdles associated with flying training.

“While you have every reason to be happy and fulfilled as you join the elite corps of military pilots, it is important to remind you that this is just the beginning of another chapter of your career as officers in the Nigerian Air Force. You should by now know that the reward for hard work is more work. Therefore, I enjoin you all to continue to work hard and also add value to the operations of the Nigerian Air Force in order to reach the zenith of your career.”

Earlier, CAS also charged the young pilots. He said: “To our young pilots winged today, I must also implore you to be prepared for the arduous task ahead of you as you fit into the operational flying environment. I must add that the mission of a fruitful flying career has just begun and as such you must stay inspired. You must open your minds to learn and be prepared to be guided by your senior colleagues in the field.

“Please permit me to borrow from the words of Air Vice Marshal JE Johnson of the Royal Air Force who once said and I quote, “Great pilots are made, not born. A man may possess good eyesight, sensitive hands, and perfect coordination, but the end result is only fashioned by steady coaching, much practice and experience”. In this regard, you must note that you require a lot of discipline, diligence, humility, loyalty and result oriented hard work to succeed in this profession.

“Therefore, do not forget the 3 Ds to success which are; ‘Drive, Discipline and Desire to be better everyday’. The current national security situation requires us to remain highly committed and focused. We must be willing, able and ready always. I therefore urge you to be ready to respond swiftly wherever and whenever you are called upon in defence of our national sovereignty and interests.”

While expressing profound gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari, who in spite of competing economic needs in the country continues to support and give special attention to the operational requirements of the Armed Forces, Abubakar further pledged the unalloyed loyalty and total commitment to his aspiration for a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria, just as he wished the young pilots equal number of take-offs and landings.