The South African Air Force today gained another 21 pilots and four navigators at a commissioning ceremony officiated by Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano.
The air force chief awarded wings to 19 regular and two Reserve pilots. Wings were also presented to four Botswana Air Force pilots.
Gagiano pinned qualification awards on the chests of four navigators, four load masters, five flight engineers and two radio operators.
The pilots and air crew will make a welcome addition to a flying service beset with skills shortages.
Gagiano last month said the ongoing loss of skills remained one of his major challenges. He added that the issue had been “widely carried in all major news outlets in the country” but is not unique to the flying service: “the other services also battled with the phenomenon.
The CAF says the ‘fact of the matter is, eternal sources (both national and international) are scouting our expertise that is widely sought after and the Air Force in this particular case just cannot compete against the large remuneration packages luring our personnel off to new challenges.”
It on average takes two-and-a-half years to train a pilot to basic proficiency and at least five to train a fighter pilot. Candidate pilots start their careers with eight weeks of basic military training at the SAAF Gymnasium.
This is followed by 19 weeks of officer formative training at the SAAF College and 44 weeks of ground school at the Military Academy after which the student receives a Certificate in Aeronautical Studies.
Next follows four weeks of survival training at the hands of 80 Air Navigation School.
Graduates of this course are then posted to the Central lying School for 44 weeks of basic flying training. Training at the CFS comprises a ground and a flying phase.
Ground training includes every aspect of flight instruction and makes extensive use of computers and simulators.
Lessons include air dynamics, plotting on maps, navigation and electronic warfare.
Flying training is conducted on the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Astra. Pupil pilots will undertake their first solo flight after about 16 hours of flying raining and during the course of the phase will fly 185 hours in the Astra and spend a further 40 in the simulator.
Skills to be mastered include general flying, formation flying, instrument flying, navigational flying and night flying. During this time the student/instructor ratio is 2:1.
On average, seven out of ten students are awarded their wings. Gagiano is keen to improve this to one – or less – out of ten.
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