September 22, 2011 -- Shindand, Afghanistan — How many people can say they helped launch the Afghan Air Force?
Carl Gustafson can.
A former Young Eagle and First Officer with JetBlue Airways, Gustafson flew a Cessna Skylane to Shindand, Afghanistan last week. He was joined by professional ferry pilot Brian Quindt and retired Delta pilot Jeff Hall.
The Afghans will use the three Cessna T182T’s as primary trainers. They will eventually be joined by three other T182T’s and 28 Grand Caravans, all part of an $88.5 million U.S. grant to the Afghan military. This marks the first time Afghanistan has had its own flight training operation.
Total time for the Skylane delivery flight, which started in Wichita, Kansas was 45.8 hours. Gustafson, Quindt and Hall departed St. John’s, Newfoundland on a direct course to Prestwick, Scotland.
“It was a new aircraft and it performed flawlessly,” said Gustafson, “but being out over an ocean for 10.6 hours, most of it at night, is really stressful. You spend a lot of time focused on the engine monitoring gages.”
From Scotland, they flew down to Ankara, Turkey. To avoid Iranian airspace, they followed the south shore of the Black Sea, crossed the Caspian Sea and through Turkmenistan into Afghanistan. Once they were handed off to ATC in Afghanistan, they noticed the controllers spoke perfect English. They were U.S. Air Force personnel, who quickly informed them that Shindand was a “hot spot” and subject to frequent mortar attacks and gunfire.
“That brought on a whole new level of stress,” said Gustafson, who admitted they had taken on the assignment with little idea of what they were getting into.
Their arrival at Shindand coincided with ceremonies opening the new training facilities. About 1,000 people greeted them and after a number of speeches, the three were flown to Kabul, where they boarded flights to India, leaving the war zone behind.
This wasn’t Gustafson’s first interesting flight, however. In 2008, he flew a JetBlue Embraer E190 to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
If you’re going to arrive in Oshkosh, it’s nice to do it in something big,” he said then in an AirVenture Today interview.
Gustafson received a Young Eagles flight during the 1993 Oshkosh fly-in and convention. He went on to solo at 16 in a 1945 Aeronca Champ, earned his pilot certificate at 17, and built his hours and ratings. At 21 he was hired by American Eagle, but was furloughed six months later because of September 11. He worked for another airline that went out of business, and he was flying 737s for a charter operator when he was hired by JetBlue.
Carl Gustafson gets ready to fly the Atlantic, as he and two other pilots delivered Cessna Skylanes to Shindand, Afghanistan for the Afghan military.
Photo courtesy Carl Gustafson
The Afghan military is using the Cessna Skylane as trainers for its flight training operation. Photo courtesy Carl Gustafson
This Cessna Skylane will be used by the Afghan military. Photo courtesy Carl Gustafson