07/11/2013 10:12 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Vietnamese navy officers earn their wings in Victoria, B.C.

Eight Vietnamese navy officers earned their wings in a special graduation ceremony in Sidney, B.C., earlier this week — the only program of its kind in Canada.

The Vietnamese Navy recently purchased six Twin Otter aircrafts from Viking Air and needed help teaching their officers how to fly the planes.

Robin Tidswell, a flight instructor with Pacific Sky Aviation, says it was the challenging 20-month program included studying English and aviation.

“There was no aviation background in any of the students that ended up here,” Tidswell said.

“It's hard enough to take someone from zero hours to a commercial pilot in 20 months, let alone a commercial pilot on a multi-engine, turbine-powered aircraft with wheels and floats. These guys, they rose to the challenge and succeeded.”

Graduate Thuan Furro says the program has changed his life for the better.

“Before I came here, I knew nothing about flying. But now I become a solo pilot. It's fantastic for me,” he said.

The program is a joint venture of the Vietnamese Navy, Pacific Sky Aviation, Camosun College and Viking Air.

An additional 30 officers are currently being trained in Victoria and more are expected in the coming months.