In July 1940, two Army Air Corps officers stepped off a plane into the sweltering summer heat of north Texas.
Maj. Oscar Beal and Capt. Joe Miller had been sent to evaluate nearby Call Field, which had been a World War I flight training base, as a potential location for a technical training school.
The community responded immediately, acquiring options on suitable tracts of land in the area, and at the same time setting the pattern for what would become one of the best base-community partnerships in the Air Force. Less than a year later, Sheppard Field -- named for Texas Senator and military advocate Morris Sheppard -- was open for business.
Sheppard Air Force Base's airfield and hangars are shown under construction in 1941. Some of these hangars are still in daily use today, housing crew chief technical training courses for various fighter and heavy aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courrtesy photo)
Over the course of the next 75 years, Sheppard would deliver more than 7 million trained Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and international partners to support combat operations around the world.
Today, Sheppard is home to two Air Education and Training Command wings. The 82nd Training Wing serves as the host wing and provides technical training to more than 60,000 students per year in about 900 courses, including all aircraft maintenance training, most civil engineering disciplines and also some logistics and cyber courses.
The 80th Flying Training Wing operates the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, which delivers trained combat pilots in support of the NATO Alliance, more than 7,500 over its 35-year history. Just as importantly, the unique nature of the program has been instrumental in building the international partnerships that have made the coalition air operations of the modern age so effective.
Over the years, Sheppard’s mission has evolved, however its role in Air Education Training Command has remained essential.
During World War II, the base played a vital role in building the airpower so critical to defeating the Axis powers, training more than 44,000 technical graduates and 445,000 basic military trainees by 1945.
After World War II, Sheppard was briefly inactivated; but the growing Cold War and looming conflict in Korea reignited the need for training installations in the newly formed Air Force.
In August 1948, the base reopened and provided basic military training, augmenting the facility at Lackland Air Force Base. In 1949, Sheppard’s official mission switched from basic training to aircraft maintenance. By 1953, Sheppard had delivered more than 80,000 trained aircraft maintainers and was home to 2 percent of all Airmen.
Sheppard took a more central role in the Cold War as the 1950s progressed. In 1955, Sheppard became the home of missile maintenance training, a mission it retained until the 1980s, when it was transferred to Vandenberg AFB, Calif. In 1959, Strategic Air Command activated the 4245th Strategic Wing at Sheppard -- the only operational mission Sheppard has hosted in its 75 years of service. This included aerial refueling and bombardment squadrons with KC-97s and B-52s. Crews trained and sat alert until SAC inactivated the wing in April 1966.
Sheppard’s history of international pilot training began in 1965, when the 3630th Flying Training Wing was activated to provide undergraduate pilot training to German Air Force students -- just 20 years after the end of World War II. In 2016, Sheppard celebrated 50 years of partnership with the German Air Force, and Sheppard continues to be Germany’s only source for trained fighter pilots. Many senior German officers have deep roots in north Texas, including the current Chief of Staff of the German Air Force, Lt. Gen. Karl Müllner.
In 1973, the 3630th became the 80th Flying Training Wing, and training was expanded to include students from Iran, El Salvador, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia and other nations under the security assistance program.
In 1981, the 80th Flying Training Wing began the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program with 13 partner nations: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States. Partner nations share program costs and provide students, instructor pilots and group and squadron leadership. In addition to undergraduate pilot training, ENJJPT provides Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals and Pilot Instructor Training.
Throughout this period, technical training remained a primary mission at Sheppard, with the Sheppard Training Center providing medical, aircraft maintenance and other training.
With the closure of Amarillo AFB in the 1960s, Sheppard became the center of gravity for a unique aspect of aircraft maintenance training -- field training. With roots in World War II, field training brought formal, curriculum-driven professional training directly to maintainers in the field. That heritage continues today with the 982nd Training Group and its 50 field training detachments on three continents, which provide aircraft maintenance, missile maintenance and combat communications training to about 35,000 students each year.
Sheppard’s current role as home of all aircraft maintenance training was solidified in 1991, when Chanute and Lowry Air Force Bases were closed and their missions relocated here.
The Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program launched at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, in 1981. Since then, the program has delivered more than 7,000 combat pilots for its 13 partner nations in support of the NATO Alliance. Just as importantly, the program has fostered vital relationships between nations that have formed the foundations for effective coalition air operations over the ensuing decades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Joshua Strang - January 4, 2017)
When the Air Force re-designated Air Training Command as Air Education and Training Command (AETC) on July 1, 1993, the Sheppard Training Center became 82d Training Wing. In addition to the 982nd, the wing is home to the he 82nd and 782nd Training Groups, which offer resident technical training in all aspects of aircraft maintenance and repair, armament and munitions, civil engineering, logistics and cyber/communications.
Today, Sheppard continues to play a vital role in “The First Command’s” mission to Recruit, Train and Educate Airmen to Deliver Airpower for America. Each year the base delivers nearly half of all technical training graduates and serves as a primary pilot training base, all while building vital international relationships and partnerships. As the Air Force focuses on building its end strength and delivering the world’s best-trained combat pilots, Sheppard will be at the heart of that effort, fulfilling its mission to Train and Inspire Warriors and living up to its motto: “Combat Capability Starts Here!”
By U.S. Air Force David Finley and George Woodward
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
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