Cherry Point residents may notice a KC-130J Hercules with an unfamiliar color scheme overhead in the coming weeks after the first of three Kuwait Air Force KC-130Js landed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., July 1. The arrival of the aircraft marks a significant training milestone in U.S. – Kuwait military relations.
Four Kuwait Air Force pilots who have been at Cherry Point since February are scheduled to conduct flight training with the aircraft for 30-45 days with prior Marine Corps pilots who will train them to Marine Corps standards, according to Mark Gibson, the program manager with Aviation Training Consulting. ATC, which provides services to support the Department of Defense, is providing instructors for pilots.
“The Kuwait Air Force specifically requested to be trained to the standards of Marine (KC-130J pilots),” said Gibson. “Everything they are learning is identical to the training any Marine receives.”
ATC has been charged with training Kuwait Air Force pilots, load masters and crew chiefs, while a separate contracting team, L-3 Vertex, will perform organizational and limited intermediate level maintenance on the new aircraft.
“The program has been in the works since 2009,” said Gibson. “Now that the first aircraft is here, we can begin the ground flight training.”
The Kuwaiti pilots have been taking classes and using flight simulators here to learn the Hercules’ flight controls before beginning the 45-day training flight schedule.
After the first group of pilots pass the course here, a group of ATC personnel plans to travel to Kuwait to train 12 additional pilots in their home country, said Rick Sofge, the lead instructor with ATC and a prior Hercules pilot from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252.
“The Kuwaiti pilots are great students,” said Sofge. “They are a pleasure to work with and are excited to learn.”
The KC-130J is going to have a very bright future with the Kuwait Air Force, said Maj. Alshayji Hamad, a pilot with the Kuwait Air Force. The Kuwaiti government is still contemplating the exact role this aircraft is going to play but it is going to be key in future success, he said.
“Training on our own aircraft will benefit us greatly,” said Hamad. “We will have a chance to work out all the good and bad and learn our responsibilities.”
Two additional Kuwait Air Force KC-130Js are scheduled to arrive at Cherry Point in the upcoming weeks for a safety inspection and to be retrofitted with safety equipment before all three aircraft return to Kuwait.
“It is an honor to be able to work with these fine men,” said Sofge. “The chances to build positive relationships like this are rare and will help with working with Kuwait moving forward.”