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Project ‘Curium’ culminates


The UK Ministry of Defence has revealed that 27 Afghan aircrew have been trained in Wiltshire.

March 8: The UK Ministry of Defence has revealed that 27 Afghan aircrew have been trained in Wiltshire as part of a two-year programme run by the UK Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) supported throughout by QinetiQ. Known as Project ‘Curium’, training of the Afghan pilots and flight engineers began in February 2008 at Qinetiq’s facility at Boscombe Down.

Using Mi-17 Hip helicopters acquired on the open market, the Afghan pilots have been trained to operate the type for the Afghan National Army Air Corps (ANAAC) on their return from the end of March when ‘Curium’ finishes. The two Hips, currently owned by the MoD, will be gifted to the Afghan government and be repainted in ANAAC colours.

While the presence of the Hips in Wiltshire has been well known to enthusiasts, the reason for their presence had not been disclosed until now. Wing Commander Al Smith, Officer Commanding the Special Duties Squadron (SDS) that oversaw Project ‘Curium’ said “The students took part in English classes before beginning their flight training with ten hours on a Firefly [fixed-wing] aeroplane before each spending over 60 hours in the Gazelle helicopter. They then transferred to the Mi-17 helicopter, flying over 40 hours each, including basics in tactical flying, formation keeping, confined area landings and some defensive manoeuvres.”

QinetiQ provided ‘Release to Service’ recommendations for the two Mi-17 helicopters, enabling them to be placed on the UK military register. Engineering support was provided by a Lithuanian company, Helisota, a maintenance and repair company with extensive Mi-17 aircraft experience.

Jeff Gardner, QinetiQ’s Technical Manager for Project ‘Curium’, said “The aircraft arrived in the UK with some issues that had to be solved before they could be used for training – the cockpit instruments had to be anglicised from the aircraft’s native Cyrillic, although some instruments still bear elements of the Russian alphabet.”

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