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Former Young Eagle Helps Deliver Skylanes to Afghanistan

Gumby suit
Carl Gustafson in his immersion suit, aka “Gumby suit,” after arriving at Shindand, Afghanistan.

Gumby suit
Two of the Turbo Skylanes parked next to a C-130 on the ramp at Shindand.

September 16, 2011 – Carl Gustafson is a First Officer with Jet Blue Airways based out of Long Beach, California, a volunteer at Flabob Airport, Riverside, California, and a former Young Eagle. Until recently, perhaps his most significant flight was bringing a JetBlue Embraer E190 into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2008. But this past week Gustafson, 31, and two other pilots ferried three brand new Cessna T182T Turbo Skylanes halfway around the world to Shindand, Afghanistan.

Those planes, plus three others like it and 28 Grand Caravans, are part of an $88.5 million grant from the United States to create the Afghan military’s first-ever flight-training program and help launch a new Afghan air force. The other PICs were professional ferry pilot Brian Quindt and retired Delta pilot Jeff Hall.

The trio began their 45.8-hour journey in Wichita, Kansas, leaving North America at St. John’s, Newfoundland, on a direct course to Prestwick, Scotland. “It was a new aircraft and it performed flawlessly,” Gustafson said, “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 to Ankara, Turkey, then - to avoid Iranian airspace - followed the south shore of the Black Sea before crossing the Caspian Sea, flying over Turkmenistan and, finally, into Afghanistan. When handed off to Afghan ATC, which was staffed by U.S. Air Force personnel, the pilots were warned that Shindand was a “hot spot” subject to frequent mortar attacks and gunfire.

“That brought on a whole new level of stress,” Gustafson said, noting that they took the assignment not fully knowing what they were getting into. Thankfully they were not fired upon nor used for target practice by insurgent forces and the planes arrived safely at Shindand airport, a facility left over from the Soviet Union’s occupation in the 1980s.

The arrival coincided with ceremonies opening the new training facilities and the three pilots and the Skylanes were greeted by more than a thousand people.

 “The scenery we passed over was phenomenal,” Gustafson said. “The contrast between Europe and Afghanistan was very dramatic. It was like a time trip. The wastelands on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea are amazingly stark and truly fascinating to fly over.”


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