« For most foreign pilots, it’s a dream come true, US-funded flight school and language training, » said retired Air Force Colonel Jeffrey Fischer, a former defense attaché and military aviator. who heard Savieliev’s story through his network of contacts with international pilots. “For Vladyslav it was frustrating. He would rather be in the Ukraine, fighting for his nation than him. »
The program was established in 1995 and is similar to other larger courses through which partner nations send their junior military officers to learn various skills from their US counterparts. It is funded by the US Air Force with the goal of training promising military officers from countries that may not have the resources for such education.
The little-known training program is unrelated to a new push by Western countries for advanced-level education for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and similar aircraft.
The handful of students who graduate each year from the Aviation Leadership Program at Columbus Air Force Base undergo months of language instruction, training on simulators and in the propeller-driven T-6 Texan trainer, as well as programs to familiarize themselves with U.S. culture and institutions.
Posts are highly coveted and partner nations typically nominate their best candidates to participate in the programme. Graduates become leaders in their military’s armed forces.
« ALP is an excellent program, » said Fischer, who has held senior positions at the US embassies in Austria and Kosovo, as well as at NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters in Belgium.
“Nations are realizing that there is intrinsic value in sending their students to US military schools. Friendships are made and there is a familiarization with the customs and culture of the United States. A bond of cooperation is fostered”.
But in February 2022, Mississippi was not where Savieliev wanted to be. He was an experienced pilot who had flown combat against Russian incursions into Crimea, Luhansk and the Donbass. This made him an anomaly in the program: many other students from developing countries may have never driven a car before, let alone an airplane.
A US Air Force spokesman confirmed that Ukrainian pilots have taken the course, including one who graduated in March 2023, but declined to comment on specific trainees. However, a photo of Savieliev upon his graduation was posted on the Columbus Air Force Base Facebook page on March 24. A Ukrainian Air Force spokesman declined to comment.
Students also participate in the DOD’s field studies program and other courses « to promote a better awareness and understanding of democratic institutions and the social landscape of the United States, » according to the Air Force.
When Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the US government took the unusual step of bringing Savieliev’s wife and young daughter from Ukraine to the US, according to Fischer and a US official familiar with the situation but who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. The grassroots community has rallied to help the family settle in Mississippi, posting messages on Facebook asking for clothes and furniture for them, the official said.
A Ukrainian pilot who used only his callsign « Nomad » spoke last summer with Air Force Magazinewho reported that he was the only Ukrainian pilot at the time following the programme.
Savieliev finally completed the course in March and returned to Ukraine after not flying his old jet, the MiG-29, for at least two years.
He died on one of the first combat missions he flew after returning from the United States, Fischer said.