An interview with Ivan Darío Gómez Villegas and Master Sergeant Reynel Ruiz about their unique Non-Commissioned Officers Academy (ESUFA) within the Colombian Air Force, the school’s mission and future aspirations.
Q: For how long have you been leading the school?
A: I've been in the leadership role at the NCO Academy since 2020. I joined the Academy during unusual times while we were in the midst of a global pandemic. Many of my immediate duties were related to adjusting our operations during the COVID-19 pandemic to support the continuity of our training. As life returns to normal, I look forward to working with our teams the further the mission and vision of our school.
Q: What year did the school start, and what were the driving factors to create such a school within the Columbian Air Force?
A: The NCO School of the Colombian Air Force was created on July 5th, 1932. This school was part of a bigger and highly integrated plan, a plan to launch and build the military aviation in Colombia and the need to train our first pilots. Then we needed to develop a new workforce of aviation mechanics to support the maintenance of our aircraft fleet. To support that mission, the non-commissioned school, currently known as “CT Andres M. Diaz,” was founded.
Q: In a few words, can you describe the ESUFA and its mission?
A: Reflecting about ESUFA, I am very proud of the school, its mission, our faculty, and our students. This Academy brings together the best of the best in our country. Our exceptionally talented professors and trainers offer great opportunities for personal and professional development for our future non-commissioned officers. Our goal is to deliver the best possible education for our students.
We are a higher education institution, and seven out of our eight programs are accredited with high quality by Columbia’s Ministry of Education. The 8th program is missing the high-quality designation from the Ministry simply because it is such a new program (only four years old). However, we are working with the Ministry of Education to ensure this new program gets its highest raking as quickly as possible, we are hoping within the next four years.
The school’s mission is to deliver military training to the future non-commissioned officers of the Colombian Air Force by providing high-quality training and relevant education to meet the needs of COLAF, to have a strong position in the air, space and cyberspace; to develop new technologies and patented solutions that will support the country’s mission.
Q: Did you benchmark similar schools in the world or is this a unique concept?
A: There are other similar school concepts around the world. But I think we are different from most of them because we have a single school delivering training programs that cover the entire process of safe airspace management, from aircraft maintenance to pilots and air traffic controllers. Here, our students learn class-leading technology and military strategies, a winning combination and a solid foundation for the future of our military.
Q: What is the relationship between the Colombian Air Force and the ESUFA?
A: There is a direct relationship between the Colombian Air Force and the ESUFA, because the Non-commissioned Officers School is in charge of providing highly qualified and trained personnel to support the future of COLAF’s NCO.
Q: What programs does the school offer and what is the career path of its graduates? How many students graduated from the school so far?
A: The NCO School has a great academic offer for young people who wish to join the Colombian Air Force. The programs include:
Airport security technology
Technology in aeronautical maintenance
Technology in aeronautical communications
Technology in aeronautical supply
Technology in air defense
Technology in aeronautical electronics
Technology in aeronautical management
Technology in air intelligence
The future COLAF NCOs are assigned to an Air Force unit, based on the skills they learned, and the job placements are high inside or outside the Air Force. On average, more than 300 young people have been graduating each year to serve our country.
Q: What makes the school special? How is it different?
A: No doubt, our students make this school special and different from other schools in Colombia. Our students are young people who want to be here. They found in their Air Force an alma mater where they can fulfill their personal and professional dreams and defend our country. Additionally, the school’s faculty innovative approach to adopting and teaching technological programs makes the school an attractive place to acquire advanced aeronautical knowledge. The educational environment and the high quality of its teachers make this school different from the others.
Q: What are some of your proudest achievements in the school’s history and some of your proudest achievements as the Director of ESUFA?
A: Some of my proudest achievements in our school’s history are related to its programs and accreditations: the high-quality institutional accreditation by the Ministry of Education of our seven technology programs, the creation of four technological specializations, the acquisition of virtual aerodrome simulator for the technology training of our undergraduates, the future non-commissioned officers of the COLAF. Regarding my proudest achievements as the Director, it would be the strengthening of gender equality with women joining the Colombian Air Force as air traffic controllers.
Q: What is your vision for ESUFA? Where do you see the school 10, 20, 50 years from how?
A: My vision is about our strength in the air, space, and cyberspace. COLAF will continue to be innovative, versatile, interoperable, a regional leader, preferably, with global reach and with real, permanent, and sustainable deterrent capabilities. Furthermore, we expect a strengthened infrastructure in all its capacities, growth in spatial knowledge aimed at the vision of the FAC, strengthening of our different specialties. And in about 10 years, I hope the creation of new specialties in space research will be a reality.
Q: For how long have you been with ESUFA and what attracted you the most to this position?
A: I have been with ESUFA since 2017 and what I appreciate the most in this position is the opportunity to train people who will serve our country from a control tower, with military values and aeronautical knowledge, specifically in air navigation services.
Q: What do you like most about the ESUFA programs?
A: What I like most about ESUFA academic programs is their holistic approach in developing military students’ skills to meet COLAF NCO’s requirements to fulfill the nation’s security needs. I enjoy observing our students’ transformation, how they acquire critical and analytical skills and evolve to become highly skilled professionals.
Q: Why did ESUFA choose the Adacel simulation systems? Can you describe the systems to us?
A: This simulator came through a binational cooperation between the American government and Colombia. The US Air Mission reviewed various makers of air traffic control simulators and they determined that Adacel’s MaxSim met the stringent standards of reality simulation and quality. The same brand simulators are used by the USAF to train its air traffic controllers too. This simulation system has excellent graphics, and its software is user-friendly. The instructors can recreate any airport operation in a very practical and effortless way, including taxiing and ground operation, takeoffs, overflights, landings, skydiving, emergency aircraft, and many more situations from a military air traffic controller aspect.
Q: What do you like most about your MaxSim simulator?
A: I like that the MaxSim simulator is easy to use, especially when we need to recreate scenarios and playing areas, aircraft operation with the same performance as a real aircraft. We also appreciate the quality of graphics, visibility, and the depth of scenery from the control tower is spectacular.
Q: How does this simulation system help with your training needs?
A: This Adacel simulator fully delivers on the COLAF’s coaching needs to train its military air traffic controllers. The demand to re-create air operations, scenarios, and playing areas is high. That in turn requires the maximum from our air traffic controllers in training, with high flow of transit, military maneuvers such as training flights, parachuting, military circuits, IFR flights, emergency maneuvers and much more. This simulator supports all our complex training needs.
Q: What makes you most proud in your job?
A: I feel most pride when I see the young military air traffic controllers at graduation, to realize they now have become real-life participants in air operations, supporting the mission of the COLAF to protect the sovereignty and security of the nation, to see them apply the air traffic separations very well, and use aeronautical procedures; how good they are at applying the English and Spanish phraseology properly, meteorological awareness service and promoting an orderly, fast and safety flow of air traffic thus allowing to take care of the country from any internal or external challenge – all this fills me with happiness.