For 75 years, Sheppard Air Force Base has been one of the Air Force’s premier training bases, one of the few to host both technical and flying training missions. Today Sheppard produces more technical training graduates—75,000 in Fiscal 2011—than any other Air Force tech training installation. Sheppard also plays a critical international role in developing U.S. and allied airpower, producing highly trained combat pilots for the NATO Alliance, as well as foreign enlisted and officer personnel in a variety of disciplines, from every permanent inhabited continent on the globe.
Sheppard’s Birth to War’s End
In May 1941, the first contingent of men arrived at Sheppard Field to design and supervise construction of administrative, technical, medical, and housing facilities. A 20-man permanent party, lead by Capt Frank Henley and Lt Edward Kemp arrived from Chanute Field on 14 June 1941 to establish a Post Headquarters and Air Corps Supply Depot. The same day the Army Adjutant General’s Office officially designated the encampment as Sheppard Field, Wichita Falls, Texas. Two days later, Col Edward C. Black became Sheppard’s first commander.
With a pressing need for aircraft maintainers, Sheppard officials began training on 13 October 1941, four days before Army officials dedicated the base, and less than two months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Two hundred twenty students were in the first aviation mechanics course. However, many of the training materials and mechanics tools had not arrived; school officials improvised by borrowing tools from the community, and instructors used barracks as classrooms. In some cases, two or more branches of the Airplane and Engine Mechanics School operated out of a single barrack.
The school trained Airmen to maintain virtually every system used in fighters and medium bombers, and as the threat of war loomed nearer, the planned graduation of 5,000 mechanics a year quickly grew to 40,000 per year. Additionally, the War Department starting basic training at Sheppard on 14 October; the Replacement Training Center commenced basic training with an initial core of 400 students. By war’s end in August 1945, more than 42,000 aircraft mechanics, 1,800 glider mechanics and 445,000 basic trainees had passed through Sheppard’s gates. Along with these individuals, glider, liaison, and helicopter pilots earned their wings here. Almost a year after the war ended, on 31 August 1946, Sheppard closed its gates.
Sheppard Reopens and the Cold War Starts
Sheppard reopened on 1 August 1948, first to conduct basic training, and later, aircraft maintenance training. Over the years a variety of other training came to Sheppard, ranging from comptroller to intelligence to loadmasters. Strategic Air Command also based a bomb wing here for a few years in the late 1950s to mid-1960s. The move of the bomb wing opened space for new flying missions. First, helicopter training moved to Sheppard in 1965, followed in 1967 by undergraduate flying training.
Air Training Command stood up that wing to train US and German Air Force pilots in the T-37 and T-38 aircraft. Before the decade’s end, students came from other countries, predominately Nicaragua, Turkey, and Ecuador. Base closures and realignments also brought new missions to Sheppard, including the move of virtually all Air Force Medical training from Gunter AFB, Alabama. About this same time, Amarillo AFB closed, meaning more aircraft maintenance courses at Sheppard, along with consolidating the vast majority of field training responsibilities at Sheppard. By the late 1960s, Air Training Command focused on increased production demands brought about by the Vietnam war. In fact, about 80 percent of Sheppard’s helicopter pilot training graduates received assignments to Southeast Asia.
The 1970s brought a change to the flying training mission, which previously fell under the Sheppard Technical Training Center. First, in 1971 helicopter pilot training moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama. Then in 1972, Air Training Command activated the 80th Flying Training Wing. Student composition also changed as students from Iran, El Salvador, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia and other nations began training under the security assistance program. Finally, in 1978, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member nations selected Sheppard as their preferred location for the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, or ENJJPT. Training aircraft remained the same except for the eventual addition of the AT-38B, which the 80th used in the introduction to fighter fundamentals course.
In the late 1980s, Base Realignment and Closure actions brought more changes. The closures of Lowry and Chanute Air Force Bases and a change in training philosophy brought virtually all Air Force aircraft maintenance training to Sheppard, while some courses, such as comptroller and some communication courses, moved elsewhere. The introduction of new courses meant the construction of many new specialized facilities over the next several years.
Exit the Cold War
Even greater changes took place on 1 July 1993 when HQ USAF re-designated Air Training Command as Air Education and Training Command (AETC). AETC deactivated all of its training centers and replaced them with wings. Instead of Sheppard Training Center, Sheppard’s host unit was now the 82d Training Wing. Over the next few months more redesignations took place as the wing’s subordinate groups received new names. They consisted of the 82d Medical Group, 82d Mission Support Group, 82d Training Group, 782d Training Group, 882d Training Group, and 982d Training Group.
By the mid-1990s, the shake up from the Chanute and Lowry AFB closings and movement/consolidation of some training courses at Sheppard (predominately aircraft maintenance) had settled down. In fact, the mission and courses were fairly stable for the remainder of the decade. However, the September 11, 2001 attacks changed the nation, and Sheppard was no exception.
While previous wars had changed the pace of training at Sheppard, the new conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq changed the face of training. Airmen increasingly found themselves on the front lines in combat situations, and Sheppard increased its focus on delivering Airmen who were not just technically skilled, but also ready for combat. New programs were put in place to hone key warrior skill sets and improve combat physical fitness, building on changes to Air Force basic military training. Without the benefit of additional personnel or funding, Sheppard initiated training on skills ranging from the proper handling of unexploded ordnance to apprehending flight line intruders.
Sheppard also supported the combat mission directly, with thousands of its Airmen graduates deploying in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Sheppard instructors have provided vital training to the fledgling Air Forces of the two nations, and medical personnel, security forces, civil engineers, pilots and other specialists have provided their expertise to support combat operations.
In 2005, a new round of Base Realignment and Closure actions directed all enlisted medical training to transfer to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Planning commenced on this front, but other activities called for action. One example consisted of maintenance training for the Air Force’s fifth-generation air dominance fighter--the F-22 Raptor. Armament, avionics and crew chief specialists train on a series of devices so similar in appearance and function to an actual airframe that students complete training at much higher standards than traditional aircraft maintenance graduates—and at a fraction of the cost. Reports from the field indicate recent Sheppard armament graduates are so skilled they assist cross-trainees experienced on other airframes in learning F-22-specific tasks.
In the ensuing years of 2006 and onwards, wing personnel also forged ahead in developing in-residence and field-training courses for the F 35 Lighting II. Changes were made to nuclear munitions courses to better prepare students for their role in maintaining, accounting for, and securing the US’ deterrent force.
Also, while the missions and landscape of the 82 TRW have changed over the years, the most dramatic changes in recent years have occurred inside the classroom, as technology has become an increasingly important aspect of training. Advances such as electronic technical orders, highly realistic training simulators and computer-based training have increased the speed, safety and effectiveness of training.
Since its birth, Sheppard has trained more than 1 million people. It has been a critical part of the United States Air Force’s evolution from a small, obsolete force in the years before World War II to the most advanced air, space and cyberspace force the world has ever seen. The Air Force’s achievements are nothing if not a testament to the importance of training—and much of that training happens right here. Sheppard’s graduates have upheld a vital place in the Air Force mission for 75 years, and have taken a small piece of North Texas with them wherever they go.
Sheppard also home to the 80th Flying Training Wing, which is host to the world’s only internationally manned and managed pilot training program. In it’s 35th year of training, the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program has now trained and delivered more than 7,100 combat pilots for the NATO alliance.
The 80th Takes Flight
The War Department constituted the 80th Pursuit Group on 13 January 1942 and activated it on 9 February 1942 at Selfridge Field, Michigan. In May 1942, the unit was predesignated the 80th Fighter Group. The 80 FG initially flew the P-47 Thunderbolt as it trained for combat. In May 1943, the 80 FG and its assigned squadrons, the 88th, 89th, and 90th Fighter Squadrons sailed for India, where the group served under Tenth Air Force. The 459 FS, flying the P-38 Lightning, joined the 80 FG on 1 September 1943.
In September 1943, the 80 FG began combat operations in the China-Burma-India theater of operations, with the 88 FS, 89 FS, and 90 FS now flying the P-40 Warhawk. The 80 FG supported Allied ground forces during the campaign for northern Burma flying tactical bombing and strafing sorties against Japanese targets. The group remained in combat operations until the capture of Rangoon in May 1945. In October 1945, the 80 FG re-turned to the US, and the War Department inactivated the group at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, the following month.
The Lineage Carries On
The U.S. Air Force activated the 80th Flying Training Wing in January 1973 at Sheppard, with the lineage and honors of the 80 FG. The 80 FTW and its three squadrons, the 88th, 89th, and 90th Flying Training Squadrons, replaced the 3630 FTW and took over its mission as a pilot training unit. The 80 FTW provided Undergraduate Pilot Training for the U.S. Air Force and the West German Air Force, as well as for partner nations such as Kenya and El Salvador under the USAF Security Assistance Training Program.
Several years later, the 80 FTW took on a new mission. Officials of NATO, realizing the need for greater interoperability among NATO pilots, made plans for a Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program. In 1978, they selected the 80 FTW to host the program. The official ENJJPT opening ceremony took place on 23 October 1981, though the first ENJJPT UPT class had already begun training on 1 October 1981. In January 1994, the wing began teaching Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, an advanced pilot course that covers basic fighter maneuvers.
In January 1992, the 80th Operations Support Squadron (80 OSS) joined the 80 FTW. In October 1998, the 97 FTS, a USAF Reserve Associate Unit, joined the ENJJPT program to augment the 80 FTW with experienced instructor pilots. In 2007, the 88th Flying Training Squadron was re-designated as the 88th Fighter Training Squadron, since it con-ducted the wing’s IFF course. In April 2009, the wing activated two additional squadrons: the 459 FTS and 469 FTS.
Today, 80th FTW operates the Air Force's second busiest joint-use airfield outside of a combat zone. Its 202 aircraft flew approximately 240 sorties per day in 2013 which equates to more than 66,000 flight hours annually. The wing delivers more than 200 Undergraduate Pilot Training graduates annually, along with 150 graduates of IFF and Pilot Instructor Training graduates. Thirteen NATO countries participate in the unique ENJJPT program with Romania in the process of applying to become the fourteenth.