While Iraq anticipates an initial delivery of F-16 Fighting Falcons in September 2014, the pilots who will fly them embarked on a historic partnership with the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing to learn how to fly the multipurpose fighter.
Already, two Iraqis have joined aspiring fighter pilots from the United States, Singapore, Poland, Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands at the U.S. Air Force's international F-16 schoolhouse at Tucson (Arizona) International Airport.
A delegation of Senior Iraqi Air Force Officers visited the unit August 30 to assess their students' progress and reaffirm their partnership with the desert fighter wing.
In 1986, Iraqi Air Force Brigadier General Abdulhussein Lafta Ali Ali flew Soviet-era MiG-21s but said he dreamed of flying the F-16.
Now visiting Tucson as a Senior Officer in his Air Force's Operations Directorate, he flew with American pilots to experience the F-16's capabilities and the unique demands of U.S. fighter training.
"The F-16 project is most important for our two nations. This is the first time Iraqis have flown F-16s. It's important for us to understand the training schedule and syllabus for our student pilots because the first pilots who train here will one day be examples for our other pilots," Ali said.
Air Guardsmen here train more than 70 international student pilots per year, offering several training programs that range from initial F-16 training to qualify new pilots to an advanced weapons course. Under the current contract between the U.S. and Iraq, the 162nd FW will train a total of 27 Iraqi pilots.
Until they receive their own fighters, the initial cadre of pilots will remain in Tucson. After they complete the 6-8 months basic course they will continue through flight lead upgrade training, additional seasoning and instructor pilot certification.
Source: US Air Force