JIS News

You may have seen a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) helicopter combing the skies during a joint-military operation, or you may have heard of a critically ill person being airlifted to hospital. This illustrates just a few of the diverse duties of the JDF Air Wing but behind what we see in the air are personnel, on the ground and in the cockpit, who allow the unit to effectively carry out its mandate.
For 35 years, the JDF received training support from Canada, under that country’s Military Training Assistance Programme (MTAP), which saw officers being sent to Portage La Prairie Canada to undergo an 11-month military pilot training course.
However, the training of Jamaican pilots in Canada was discontinued a few years ago, paving the way for the island’s first ever military pilot training institution.
Second in command at the JDF Air Wing, Major David Cummings explains that, “due to a change in the training system with the Canadian Air Force, a decision was taken two years ago to repatriate pilot training from Canada back to Jamaica, under a partnership between Canada and Jamaica and hence was born the Jamaica Military Aviation School, which was officially opened by the Minister of National Security on the 7th of December 2006.”
Located at the JDF Air Wing’s base at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, classes at JMAS began on the second of this month.
The school is primarily responsible for training pilots to serve in the JDF but also trains pilots from other regional air forces.
Major Cummings assures that locally trained pilots will receive the same quality training as was imparted under the Canadian programme.
“Under the partnership with Canada, the Canadian Air Force has given us the entire courseware, all of the lessons and syllabus from the package in Canada. The certification is on par, it is the identical training at the end of the programme what they get is their pilot wings. The Canadian Air Force actually sent an evaluation team to Jamaica early last month, and spent two weeks here undergoing an intense evaluation of the school,” he informs.
He adds that “at the end of that evaluation process they were very comfortable and they validated the fact that the school is capable and has all of the resources to deliver what is needed to turn out a pilot who will have the same standard had he gone to Portage La Prairie in Canada and received his wings there.”
“So we will see no deviation in standard between a pilot with his wings who left Canada three years ago or with a pilot who will leave JMAS starting from next year with the first graduation ceremony, there’ll be no difference in the standard,” Major Cummings says.
In the meantime Commandant of the JMAS Captain Brian Creary says that in order for persons to qualify for entry into the flight school, the applicant has to be military officers of a force within the region.
“Once they have met that requirement they would undergo a selection process to determine whether or not they are suitable to be trained as military pilots, if they’re successful at that, then they would proceed on to the flying course,” Captain Creary saysThe JMAS has a capacity to train a maximum of six students per course, who undergo three phases of training, over an 11-month period.
The institution will train two sets of students each year, with one cohort starting in July and the other group beginning in February of the following year.”Two courses will be conducted concurrently throughout the school. Because of the length of the courses, we can only handle two courses per year,” Captain Creary explains.
The staff at the JMAS comprises all military personnel, including Jamaican and Belizean flight instructors, while support staff is taken from various units of the JDF.
“We have theory-based classrooms. briefing rooms are also available for one-on-one instruction, and small classrooms for smaller groups, in addition to a complete lounge and dining facility,” Captain Creary informs.
He adds that accommodation facilities are provided at the JDF’s Up Park Camp headquarters. “So the students actually sleep in Up Park Camp and they are ferried by buses in the morning to the school, where they conduct all their training. They’re fed and again shuttled back to Up Park Camp at the end of the day,” he outlines.
All flight training operations are based at the Norman Manley International Airport and training is conducted in the various training areas that are already established by the Civil Aviation Authority, in and around the airport.
“The current training fleet is two Diamond DA 40s, which are single engine trainers. As we progress further into the course we are looking at adding to our fleet with helicopters in time for the helicopter course in addition to additional training aircraft.
The ideal number of aircrafts that we’re looking at once all the preparations are completed is four single engine trainers, two multi engine trainers, and two helicopters,” Captain Creary says.
In the meantime, Major Cummings explains that “when a pilot receives his or her wings, that individual will have about 250 hours under their belt and will therefore be qualified to become a co-pilot on one of our aircraft that is in the JDF operational fleet.” “Co-pilot meaning that they will always fly with another experienced pilot, who probably has a couple thousand hours under their belt. They will spend the next few hundred hours of their flying experience learning the weather patterns and the operational profile of the unit until such time as we feel that individual has gained sufficient operational experience to be able to go flying on their own in a JDF aircraft,” Major Cummings states.
Lieutenant Mellissa Sinclair, is a student JMAS and is on her way to becoming the first female pilot that the JDF Air Wing has had in 17 years.
“I’m proud to be representing the JDF or a part of the JDF. You have to be honoured in following the footsteps of the two female pilots that were here before me and in a sense it’s not an easy thing to do.
But with the help of for example your family, your friends, most of all your co-workers and to have determination it is attainable,” Lieutenant Sinclair says.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, which I will most definitely make the best of but in the same sense it’s a milestone for all the candidates and for the JDF and it’s a good experience. We have the instructors, facilities and the materials that you’ll find in other first world countries so we’ll be exposed to the same level of professionalism that we’d have received if we would have gone overseas,” she continues.
Another of the four JMAS students, Lieutenant Osmar Fiddler describes the training as intense, but says he has been enjoying the experience.
“For me it’s a great privilege, it’s an honour, I’ve always wanted to become a pilot and to know that I am a part of history in the making, it’s really an honour for me,” Lieutenant Fiddler says.
Persons interested in becoming JDF pilots may visit the Force’s website at www.jdfmil.org for details on entry requirements.

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