Early Days of Aircraft Maintenance Training at Sheppard

  • Published
  • By Heritage Center staff
  • 82nd Training Wing History Office
Base officials had been ordered to begin training on Oct. 13, 1941. 

School officials improvised by borrowing tools from the community because many of the training materials and mechanics tools had not yet arrived. Due to construction delays caused by heavy rains, barracks were used as classrooms. In some cases, two or more branches of the Airplane and Engine Mechanics School were forced to operate out of a single barrack. 

Two hundred-twenty students were in the first aviation mechanics course. On Oct. 14, the Replacement Training Center commenced basic training with an initial core of 400 students. By February 1942, all of the post buildings had been erected, including the six academic buildings and five hangars on the north side of the field. 

By the time the United States entered the war Dec. 7, 1941, the fifth class of aviation mechanics had grown to 800. Under the wartime emergency, Col. Edward Black added a sixth day of instruction to each of the two eight-hour shifts. With the start of the sixth class on Dec. 19, the class size was increased to 900 students, but the frequency of class starts decreased from two weeks to 10 days. 

Training officials had to start a class every six days by April 1942 to meet training requirements. By October, the school had to implement a 24-hour training day of three continuous shifts to accommodate the more than 7,700 aviation mechanics that Sheppard trained during World War II. 

Basic training also experienced a rapid growth. During the first three weeks of January 1942, the number of new recruits jumped from 5,500 to 19,000. To keep pace with the large increase in training requirements, the War Department authorized an additional $1.6 million in March 1942 for the construction of more than 30 new buildings at Sheppard Field. 

In the first six months after Pearl Harbor, training officials confined themselves to producing aircraft mechanics. All this changed in September 1942 when Col. Henry R. Clagett, who replaced Colonel Black as installation commander, announced the establishment of a Glider Mechanic School at Sheppard Field. The Army's interest in locating glider mechanic training at Sheppard coincided with a growing interest in using gliders to deliver troops to war zones. 

The CG-4A standard glider was capable of transporting either 15 fully-equipped soldiers or a quarter-ton truck with crew. These powerless aircraft were equipped only with radio sets, wheels, and brakes. Glider mechanics were needed who could perform routine maintenance and, in an emergency, rebuild wrecked gliders. 

Prior to the establishment of glider mechanic training at Sheppard, the Army had used gliders on an experimental basis. About 90 instructors, mostly aircraft mechanic graduates, taught an average of 1,440 glider mechanic students per day, with a new class starting every 10 days. 

On Sept. 6, 1943, the Central Flying Command at Randolph Field, Texas, directed Sheppard to establish a Glider Classification School for training glider pilots. Sheppard was now home to two of the three schools that glider student pilots attended. The third school, at South Plains Army Air Field in Lubbock, Texas, taught advanced glider pilot training. Sheppard's gilder flight officers went there to complete training. 

The 67th Basic Flying Training Squadron from Goodfellow Field, Texas, officially made its move Oct. 9, 1943. The squadron's mission was to provide flying operations for the Glider Classification School. For the first time, Sheppard had a flying mission. Flying began in early 1944. 

In addition to providing a training environment for aircraft mechanics and glider mechanics and pilots, Sheppard Field also hosted a variety of other training during World War II, including instruction for B-29 engineers, C-82 transport mechanics and helicopter pilots. The base reached its peak strength of 46,000 in October 1945, while serving as an Army Air Forces separation center. 

As a result of the increase in specialized training and the number of graduates, Sheppard began to take on the quality of permanency. On Jan. 18, 1950, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, to the delight of the local community leaders, announced that he had selected the installation to be a permanent Air Force base, a designation that seemed appropriate when once again the base saw the number of its students and instructors rapidly increase in response to the outbreak of war in the Far East. 

With the onset of the Korean War, all training activities at Sheppard immediately accelerated. Between December 1950 and July 1951, the base's in-training load increased from nearly 11,000 to over 15,000. In mid-December 1950, the first class of 37 students graduated from a special jet-engine mechanics course.