Sheppard AFB Report

Tuesday 23rd October 2012

UK Airshow Review were invited by the 82nd TRW and 80th FTW Training Wings at Sheppard AFB to experience the busy day-to-day activities at this unusual USAF base, situated in Wichita County, Texas. It is the largest and most diverse base in the USAF's Air Education and Training Command, and here we profile the units and the many types operated at Sheppard AFB.

Report by Paul Newbold with assistance and additional photography from Andy Evans and Chris Barkby.

82d Training Wing (TRW)

Old aircraft don't have to die - some are lucky enough to survive as ground instruction machines and one unit that has many of these is the 82nd Training Wing (82 TRW) at Sheppard Air Force Base. This place is heaven for the aviation enthusiast with a large variety of aircraft. Lockheed C-130s, Boeing B-52s and KC-135s, McDonnell Douglas F-15s, General Dynamics F-16s and Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt IIs share hangars and ramp space to ensure future ground crew are well trained and ready to maintain their active counterparts.

Of course most of the aircraft that are in active squadron service are at the cutting edge of technology and avionics are usually much more advanced than those in the older aircraft here but it does give the student a basic knowledge in working with the airframes. Newer airframes have been arriving recently in the form of F-15Cs and F-16Cs which will give the trainees a closer representation of the aircraft they will actually be working on.

Not only US Air Force recruits are trained here. At the end of 2011 Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase 84 F-15SA Eagles and upgrade existing jets and part of this agreement included ground instruction training for Saudi students at the 82nd TRW. Around twenty are currently training and we met some of them on our visit. One of the images on this page shows some of them posing for the camera in front of an F-15C. They were enjoying their studies and no doubt some of that famous Texan hospitality.

As an aviation enthusiast some of the highlights of the visit to the 82nd TRW were the last green (European One camouflage) A-10 in pristine condition complete with sharks mouth, and a B-52H Stratofortress in NASA white and blue colours which was briefly used by the Space agency. Both of the 82nd TRW Buffs (Big ugly fat fella) have their tails removed as part of the arms reduction treaty with Russia so passing satellites can see they are not easily activated. Another treat was several ex-Thunderbirds USAF flight display team F-16Cs now in their own hangar.

80th Flying Training Wing (FTW)

The 80th FTW (Flying Training Wing) is also co-located at the base and the ENJJPT (Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training) programme is a big part of it's routine with thirteen nations contributing in some way. Nine of those nations currently have aircrew training here - Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Norway, Turkey, Spain and the USA.

With so many nations' pilots to train it is no wonder it was so busy during our visit. We also visited the tower to watch operations and viewed many take offs and landings of the resident T-38C and T-6A trainers. We were also taken on a ramp tour to view the aircraft at close quarters.

Talons Still Sharp

The T-38 Talon recently celebrated it's 50th birthday but this sleek supersonic jet trainer's lines belie its age. Squadrons using this veteran are the 90th Flying Training Squadron (FTS) 'Boxing Bears', 469th FTS 'Bulls' and 88th FTS 'Lucky Devils'.

The aircraft have been gradually upgraded over the last twenty years to keep up with technology of newer fighters but the airframes will not last forever so a programme has been launched by the air force called T-X to find a replacement. This is likely to be an off the shelf trainer like the BAe Hawk, KAI T-50 or Alenia Aermacchi M-346 as a protracted new type development would take an unacceptable length of time.

The T-38C is a fast aircraft and sometimes a little too hot to handle for new recruits and this explains one of the criteria for the new T-X for a sub Mach 1 performance. The Talon's small wings, which help it gain it's high top speed, can be a hinderance in very hot weather when there may not be enough lift available to take off. Restrictions have to be placed in these conditions, temporarily suspending operations. Despite this, the pilots have great affection for the old jet.

Return of the Texan

The T-6 Texan II bears the name and designation of the famous World War II trainer and is based on the Pilatus PC-9. Both have enjoyed considerable success in the export market and the T-6 is used by the USAF and US Navy in large numbers, and at this time is still in the process of delivery. It is flown here by the 89th FTS 'Banshees' and the 469th FTS 'Dragons'.

The airbase

Sheppard Air Force Base itself was activated on 17th October 1941 as an Army Air Corps base and has been a training base right from the start. It is the largest at 6100 acres and most diverse training base in the Air Education and Training Command(AETC). Located five miles north of Wichita Falls, one runway is shared with the civil facility on the airfield.

Thanks go to Captain Frank Arnold of the 80 FTW for his very interesting informal interview and for taking us around the ramps and in the control tower. Thanks also to 2nd Lt Meredith Dilley PA of the 82d TRW for the tour of the ground instruction facility and to everyone involved for being fantastic hosts.