Flight School for Dogs

At Fairchild AFB, canines learn to be good helicopter passengers.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Bethany Ray and her dog Lili prepare for UH-1N Huey training. (USAF / Staff Sgt. Dustin Mullen)
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U.S. military dogs trained to sniff out explosives or drugs can’t always get to where they are needed in a land vehicle. And so this past November, members of the Military Working Dog section of the 92nd Security Forces Squadron—and their four-legged partners—participated in UH-1N Huey training at the Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state.

The training introduced the dogs to the distractions and noise they might experience when boarding and flying in a helicopter. “We don’t want them to ever come across anything that’s new to them. It just kind of throws them off,” says Staff Sergeant James Wilson, whose partner, Fanni, is a Belgian Malinois. A key to helicopter training is to “make it a fun situation,” he says, “whether it’s taking out a toy or just keeping physical contact with them. Even though she may not hear me, she sees me talking to her. She could see my mouth moving, so it helps de-stress the situation.”

“In layman’s terms, these dogs work their asses off,” says Staff Sergeant Thomas Newman. “And they love doing what they’re doing.”

If called to duty, up to two dogs and their handlers could fit in a single helicopter.

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