Moroccan pilots scheduled to fly their air force’s new Lockheed Martin F-16 “Vipers” have finished their 15 month training course in the United States ahead of the first deliveries of the aircraft later this month.
The US Air National Guard announced that four Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) officers, who are former Northrop F-5 “Freedom Fighter” pilots, concluded their instruction at the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport in Arizona. The unit is the international Lockheed Martin F-16 training unit and has provided training to some of the 25 countries around the world that have bought the F-16.
The pilots are the first from their country to accomplish consecutive courses in basic qualification, flight lead upgrade and instructor pilot certification in the multi-role fighter.
A handful of Air National Guard pilots will accompany them as they deliver the first four of Morocco’s 24-aircraft purchase. The new F-16s, block 52 versions of the fighter, will be fresh off the assembly line.
“We are modernizing our fleet and we’ve chosen the F-16, not only because it is a high-quality airplane, but also because of the close relationship we have with the United States,” said Deputy Inspector of the Royal Moroccan Air Force, Brigadier General Abdelali Houari.
“We are really happy to send our pilots here to be trained. After a year and a half in the United States our pilots are happy, of course they want to return home, but they have gained a lot of experience here with the Arizona Air National Guard.”
Lieutenant Colonel Steve Haase, the Morocco program manager for the 162nd Fighter Wing, worked with the RMAF for the last three years. He has trained fighter pilots from all over the world and fully understands the scope of the students’ historic accomplishment.
“It’s a big commitment to be the first F-16 pilots for Morocco. They are excited about the F-16 and its capabilities yet they understand how much work there will be to build up an F-16 base.”
As students, the pilots averaged three sorties per week and accumulated more than 150 F-16 hours each. Once home, they will not only be responsible for training others, but will also be instrumental in standing up F-16 operations at Ben Guerir Air Base.
Ben Guerir is a former US air base located about 36 miles north of Marrakech and once served as a transatlantic abort landing site for the space shuttle. It’s currently undergoing upgrades that, according to Moroccan officials, are modelled after US Air Force bases.
“These are the best F-5 instructor pilots from their air force. They think the way we think,” Colonel Haase said. “They have really shown that they want to learn how we [the US] operate with the F-16 so they can do it the same way – not just flying, but everything from maintenance to logistics.”
Six additional Moroccan pilots are currently in the basic F-16 course in Tucson with graduation planned for September. They too will return home to help manage Morocco’s growing F-16 fleet.
Morocco is in the process of upgrading its armed forces and is buying large amounts of military equipment, including fighters, trainer aircraft and frigates. As almost all significant combat equipment was acquired between 1978 and 1981, Morocco is moving ahead with an upgrade programme for its Mirage F1s and is also engaged in the acquisition of new equipment that will ensure the air arm remains credible and effective. The most important type is the F-16, which was designed to keep up with Algeria’s purchase in 2007 of MiG-29s.
The RMAF has close to 50 warplanes and a substantial number of helicopters that are able to undertake combat operations as well as performing general support tasks. The air force’s inventory is being upgraded and swelled by new purchases, such as four C-27J Spartan transport aircraft, which were delivered by Alenia Aeronautica in July last year.
Meanwhile, late last month Hawker Beechcraft announced it had delivered 12 of 24 T-6C turboprop trainers to the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF). The T-6C is an improved version of the T-6B Texan II featuring key upgrades such as an integrated glass cockpit, advanced avionics suite and wing hard-points that can accommodate auxiliary fuel tanks or bombs. The RMAF ordered the airplanes under a US$185.3 million contract announced in September 2009. The T-6C is replacing the turboprop Beechcraft T-34 Mentor and Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainer in RMAF service.