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Nigerian Air Force leadership visits Columbus AFB, views pilot training program

Maj. James Stillwagon, 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, shows Squadron Leader Adedamola Onalaja, Nigerian Air Force, how their virtual reality training works Jan. 23, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The Nigerian Air Force members visited Columbus AFB to check on one of their students and to see the different aspects of pilot training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

Maj. James Stillwagon, 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, shows Squadron Leader Adedamola Onalaja, Nigerian Air Force, how their virtual reality training works Jan. 23, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The Nigerian Air Force members visited Columbus AFB to check on one of their students and to see the different aspects of pilot training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

Air Vice-Marshal Aliyu Bello, director of training for the Nigerian Air Force, center, speaks with Lt. Col. Nathan Smith, 50th Flying Training Squadron commander Jan. 23, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Bello and his team visited Columbus AFB to see how their student pilot was progressing in her training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

Air Vice-Marshal Aliyu Bello, director of training for the Nigerian Air Force, center, speaks with Lt. Col. Nathan Smith, 50th Flying Training Squadron commander Jan. 23, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Bello and his team visited Columbus AFB to see how their student pilot was progressing in her training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Columbus Air Force Base’s Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training program produces some of the world’s greatest aviators for the U.S., but also helps develop aviators of our international partners.

Air Vice-Marshal Aliyu Bello, director of training for the Nigerian Air Force, and other members of the Nigerian Air Force visited Columbus AFB, Mississippi, Jan. 24 to get a firsthand view of the SUPT training program and check on a Nigerian student who is currently in class.

“The Nigerian and U.S. Air Forces have had a long standing history,” Bello said. “Nigerian pilots who have went through training here have excelled (and) peaked in their careers.”

Bello and his group began their visit by exploring a T-6 Texan II simulator. This was a chance for them to see how the simulators aid student pilots throughout the training process. They were able to experience what their students go through on a daily basis and gain an appreciation for the reality the simulators provide without actually taking off.

After the simulator tour, the group was able to check out the various flying squadrons and learn about their operations and history.

Bello and his team also witnessed the new virtual reality equipment SUPT pilots are using to train. After giving it a try himself, Bello seemed pleased and excited with the new technology.

“We are very impressed with the innovations and technology used here to help student pilots train,” Bello said. “We plan to send more [Nigerian student pilots] here in the future.”

The VR technology that the 14th Operations Group uses has the potential to give student pilots more practice by immersing them into a virtual cockpit, allowing them to fix any discrepancies or issues. Bello was eager to find out more information on VR training to help Nigerians improve their own training.

The training offers a more inexpensive approach to give students a more practical and hands-on way of learning without using simulators or time in the aircraft.

Lt. Col. Nathan Smith, 50th Flying Training Squadron commander, met with Bello and his team during their visit and said he thought the tour was successful.

“It’s great for our international partner to visit and understand what their pilot trainee is going through,” Smith said. “I think the tour went outstanding, they certainly enjoyed our VR technology that we are starting to incorporate into our training and it sound like they are interested in something like that for their own training.”