The Nigerian Air Force has produced its first ever female pilot, Blessing Liman, who will be commissioned at a ceremony tomorrow. Nigeria’s air arm is in the process of revitalising its fleet and training dozens of new pilots.
Liman and 116 officer cadets of the Direct Short Service Commission Course 20/2011 will be commissioned at the 325 Ground Training Group, Kaduna tomorrow, according to Air Officer Commanding Training Command, Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Salihu.
He said that earlier this year, President Goodluck Jonathan had mandated the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to produce female military pilots and that the Chief of Air Staff had directed Training Commands to ensure that the task was achieved before the end of the year.
“I am pleased to inform you that this mandate has just been accomplished as Officer Cadet Blessing Liman will be commissioned on December 9, 2011, as the first military pilot in Nigeria after the successful completion of the training,” he said.
“The training of the cadets…is significant in two folds. Firstly, it would boost the crucial aspect of manpower requirements of NAF and, secondly, the presidential mandate is intended to foster equal participatory opportunities in the national development to all categories of the Nigerian people which also is in line with President Jonathan’s transformation agenda,” he stated.
Training pilots is a very important task for the NAF, which has over the last decade increased funding and spares supplies for training. Much of the Air Force’s training has previously taken place in the US, UK, Ukraine and Belarus, amongst other nations.
Earlier this year the NAF reintroduced into service four Alpha Jets that had been refurbished by a German firm. Alpha Jets are used to train fighter pilots at 99 Air Weapons School at Kainji. Student fighter pilots first conduct basic flying training at 303 Flying Training School (FTS) at Kano, which was formally established in 1985 with L-29 and later MB-339 trainers. Under a 2006 contract, Alenia modernised the NAF’s dozen MB-339s, which are used for the basic training of fighter pilots, but can be pressed into service as attack aircraft if the need arises.
303 Flying Training School has trained 127 basic pilots, conducted recurrence training for over 216 pilots and instructors and produced 16 instructors for the air forces of Ghana, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Salihu said that this year the unit graduated six pilots.
Before passing through 303 Flying Training School, Nigerian pilots undergo ab initio training at 301 Flying Training School (FTS) at Kaduna. The unit flies Air Beetle and Dornier aircraft for ab initio and transport pilot training. Since inception, the unit has produced more than 600 student pilots for the NAF, Nigerian Navy and some other African countries.
For helicopter pilot training, students complete primary training at 301 FTS before moving to 305 FTS at Enugu. Before the establishment of 305 Flying Training School, helicopter pilots were sent overseas. In 1986 the NAF acquired Hughes 300C helicopters for 305 FTS, but they were withdrawn and replaced by Mi-34s.
Nigeria ordered a dozen AgustaWestland AW109E/LUHs, which are being used for training at 305 FTS. The first of these began arriving in February last year.
Nigeria has one of the biggest air forces in West Africa, which was recently boosted by an order for 15 Chengdu F7s from China, comprising 12 F7-Ni fighters and three FT-7NI trainers. These have replaced its grounded MiG-21s. Deliveries were completed in the middle of last year.
Other recent purchases include two ATR 42 maritime patrol aircraft, the first of which was delivered in December 2009. The NAF is also refurbishing its C-130 and G.222 transports.