International training wing celebrates graduation of 1st Bulgarian F-16 pilot

The 162nd Wing at Morris Air National Guard Base, Tucson, Ariz., graduated its first Bulgaria air force F-16 pilot, Capt. Aleksandar Velinov, in a ceremony April 8, 2022.

Although the observance was unassuming and informal, the implications are enormous. Bulgaria contracted in early-2020 to purchase the F-16 aircraft with anticipated delivery beginning in 2023. Velinov was selected as one of four pilots to undertake a specialized English immersion course before going through the full U.S. Air Force training pipeline for the F-16. Today marked the pinnacle of his training period.

“We’re proud of Captain Velinov, and the entire Bulgaria air force,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing commander. “Their training here in Arizona strengthens both the European Union and the NATO alliance,” he said.

The F-16 is set to replace Bulgaria’s aging MiG-29 fighters. “When I return to Bulgaria, the F-16 will be a brand new aircraft to the country, so it’s up to the first pilots and maintainers who go through training in the U.S. to build the foundation and set a high standard of work,” said. Velinov. “With Bulgaria planning to transition to the F-16 as quickly as possible, my training in Tucson is vital,” he said.

“We make partnerships right here in Tucson that have a global impact,” said Brig. Gen. Butler. Because we can support and develop international partners like Bulgaria, our own homeland is safer,” he said.

Capt. Aleksandar Velinov, a Bulgaria air force F-16 pilot, is the first pilot from his country to graduate from the 162nd Wing’s international pilot training program. (Air National Guard photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)

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