SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Seeing aircraft from Sheppard Air Force Base soar in the North Texas skies and above Wichita Falls, Texas, is one thing – flying in one is another.
Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana experienced the mental and physical requirements needed to be an Air Force combat pilot June 12 when he flew a training mission in a T-38C Talon with 80th Flying Training Wing Commander Col. Andrea Themely. The civic leader flight gave the mayor the opportunity to see, feel and hear what pilots in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard undergo during their 55-week course.
The mayor said he knew quite a bit about the mission of the 80th FTW, but he didn’t realize how physically demanding a single sortie could be. He said area residents see the pilots in local communities and see the aircraft in the air, but they don’t see the stresses, strains and rigors pilot training takes on the body. Santellana said he learned a little about the toll during a visit to aerospace physiology the day before his flight.
“That’s the part that I didn’t have a really good grasp on, but now I do,” he said. “After the million-dollar experience, I realize that not only are these guys mentally tough, but physically they’re in top shape.”
Santellana described the two-ship training flight as one that focused on teaching the student pilot in the second Talon the concepts of formation flying, sometimes getting as close as 3 feet wingtip-to-wingtip. What he learned during the flight was every training sortie flown out of Sheppard has a purpose, full of checklists and requirements that have to be met for student pilots to progress in the program.
The mayor said the flight was mostly exhilarating, breaking through the clouds and performing various maneuvers. Some of the physiological results of the force of gravity pulling his body at times, he quipped, “ruined that feeling.”
Themely said the partnership between ENJJPT and the local community is one that is unsurpassed anywhere else. She said the flight was in the spirit of continuing that partnership and building a greater understanding and appreciation of the program’s mission with the mayor
“I know he truly enjoyed it,” she said. “It was great to fly over Wichita Falls on our departure out to the airspace and get a beautiful aerial view of the amazing city that all of us are so proud to be part of.”
Santellana said he has a new appreciation for the mission of the 80th FTW, and although he would do it all over again, his 42-year-old body would need to recover.
“Everybody says your body gets used to it,” he said. “I just can’t imagine my body getting used to that.”
ENJJPT trains more than 200 combat pilots annually from 14 NATO countries. They fly roughly 250 training sorties daily in the T-6A Texan II and the T-38C.