Air Force Bases

Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas

In the crisis-laden months prior to Pearl Harbor, the rapid expansion of technical training threatened to overwhelm the small peacetime Army Air Corps Training School headquartered at Chanute Field in Illinois. In mid-1940, the school encompassed three Army bases: Lowry Field, Colorado, which taught photography, armament, and clerical courses; Scott Field, Illinois, which was responsible for communications training; and Chanute, where all other technical training courses resided.

In July 1940, Maj Oscar Beal and Capt Joe A. Miller, both stationed at Chanute, landed at Kell Field, the municipal airport at Wichita Falls, Texas. Their trip was made in response to a letter that Maj Gen Rush B. Lincoln, the Commander of Air Corps Technical Training Command, had received from Washington. In that letter, General Lincoln had been asked to provide an evaluation of Call Field as a potential location for a technical training school. Call Field had been an Army World War I flight training base located on what is now called Call Field road. During their brief stop, the two officers met with Fulcher Armstrong, manager of Kell Field, and toured the local area to examine possible sites for a large Army Air Corps training school.

Buoyed by the arrival of the two Army surveyors, the Chamber of Commerce solicited funds to acquire options on a number of tracts of land. The city acquired a six-month option on 650 acres of land in the immediate vicinity of Wichita Falls. To John C. Boyd, the Chamber of Commerce's Industrial Division Manager, fell the task of determining the site most suitable for an Air Corps flying base. He identified two plots of land near the Missouri-Kansas- Texas Railroad owned by Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell, two prominent area businessmen, plus two additional sites near the rail line on the southern and eastern edges of the city.

On 28-29 November 1940, General Lincoln met with local business leaders and toured the four potential base sites. The area that most impressed him was several hundred acres of flat land near the present day Sheppard hospital. He liked the flat landscape because it was near the 3,000-foot runway at Kell Field, which could provide Air Corps personnel and pilots easy access to the proposed installation.

On 6 December 1940, Sidney Kring, the manager of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, flew to Chanute Field to present the city's formal bid for a technical school. The effort was successful. On 19 March 1941, the city learned that the War Department had given its final approval for an Air Corps technical approval for an Air Corps technical training center. About a month later, on 17 April, Army Chief of Staff Gen George C. Marshall announced that the new installation would be named Sheppard Field, in honor of Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, who had died eight days earlier.

In May 1941, the first contingent of men arrived at Sheppard Field to design and supervise construction of administrative, technical, hospital, and housing facilities. A 20-man permanent party, lead by Capt Frank Henley and Lt Edward Kemp (no relation to Joseph Kemp) arrived on 14 June 1941 from Chanute Field to establish a Post Headquarters and Air Corps Supply Depot. On the same day, the Army Adjutant General's Office officially designated the encampment as Sheppard Field, Wichita Falls, Texas. On 16 July 1941, Col Edward C. Black became Sheppard's first commander.

Until wooden barracks could be constructed, early arrivals at Sheppard were housed in a tent city on the west side of Wichita Falls, near the old Wichita Engineering Company. Initially, the War Department had planned to use the training facilities solely for an aviation mechanics school. However, on 19 June 1941, the War Department approved a revised training plan that provided Sheppard Field with a dual mission. Along with its Aviation Mechanics School, Sheppard also would serve as a basic training center. In addition to the 16,122 soldiers originally projected for the aviation mechanics program, basic training added another 10,000.

Base officials had been ordered to begin training on 13 October 1941. Because many of the training materials and mechanics tools had not arrived, school officials improvised by borrowing tools from the community. 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 14 October, 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 on 7 December 1941, the fifth class of aviation mechanics had grown to 800. Under the wartime emergency, Colonel Black added a sixth day of instruction to each of the two eight-hour shifts. With the start of the sixth class on 19 December, the class size was increased to 900 students, but the frequency of class starts decreased from two weeks to 10 days. By April 1942 training officials had to start a class every six days 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, in March 1942, authorized an additional $1.6 million for the construction of more than 30 new buildings at Sheppard Field.

Glider Mechanics and Pilot Training

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 6 September 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 glider flight officers went their to complete training.

On 9 October 1943, the 67th Basic Flying Training Squadron arrived from Goodfellow Field, Texas. 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 a peak strength of 46,000 in October 1945, while serving as an Army Air Forces separation center.

Foreign Student Training

Sheppard also briefly accommodated Free French soldiers during World War II. In September 1943 , the base learned it would be receiving 100 Free French students, who would attend the airplane mechanics course. This training was short-lived, however, because in February 1944 all training on the B-25 transferred to Keesler Field in Mississippi.

Sheppard Field Inactivated

In March 1946, instructors at Sheppard Field learned that their installation would be inactivated. For the local community, the news was not welcome. During the waning days of the great depression , Sheppard Field had helped buoy the area's depressed agriculture and oil-based economy. In its 57 months of operation, the field had pumped more than $100 million into the local economy.

On 31 August 1946, the War Department placed Sheppard on inactive status. The 3706th Army Air Forces (later, Air Force Base) Unit remained at Sheppard from May 1944 to August 1948 as the caretaker unit. Then on 1 August 1948, the American flag was again unfurled over Sheppard, this time in response to the Cold War. Once again, Sheppard reported to Air Training Command.

Sheppard Field Reactivated

On 26 August 1948, Air Training Command organized the 3750th Basic Training Wing. The wing consisted of five major organizations: the 3750th Station Hospital, the 3750th Air Base Group, the 3750th Maintenance and Supply Group, the 3750th Basic Training Group, and the 3760th Basic Training Group.

In January 1949, HQATC informed the 3750th Basic Training Wing that an airplane mechanics school would relocate to Sheppard from Keesler AFB. This announcement was especially fortuitous, since by January 1949 the flow of basic trainees had began to slow. The number of new recruits had dropped by almost half, from 3,300 in January to 1,700 in February. On 1 April 1949, Air Training Command discontinued the 3750th Basic Training Wing and established the 3750th Technical Training Wing to manage the Airplane and Engine Mechanics School and the Rotary Wing and Liaison Mechanic School .

In a massive airlift, Sheppard used ten C-47 aircraft to transport 12,500 men and 2.5 million pounds of freight from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Wichita Falls. An additional 913 tons of freight were shipped by truck and rail. The Airplane and Engine Mechanics School began operating at Sheppard on 4 May 1949. Instruction had begun in the Rotary Wing and Liaison School on 20 April.

On 2 May 1949, hundreds of Sheppard airmen assembled on the flight line to see the world's largest mass-produced plane, the B-36 Peacekeeper. The plane was there for instructional purposes; Sheppard began its first B-36 class began on 30 November.

Also due to arrive were B-25s, B-50s, P-47s, and A-26s. The P-47s and A-26s, both of which were World War II-vintage aircraft with reciprocating engines, were especially useful in training foreign students. Between May 1949 and July 1952, over 650 foreign students received training at Sheppard under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and the Mutual Security Act of 1949.

Sheppard Becomes a Permanent Installation

As a result of the increase in specialized training and the number of graduates, Sheppard began to take on the quality of permanency. On 18 January 1950, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, to the delight of 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. Despite going to a three-shift training schedule, Sheppard was unable to accommodate the influx of new students. For example, in the three-month period ending 30 September 1951, the aircraft mechanics course was short some 1,000 graduates who, because of the wartime emergency, were diverted to more specialized training courses.

Six months after the armistice, the total base population had declined to 14,600 people, a loss of almost 9,000 Air Force personnel, including 5,353 students. By mid- 1954, the population at Sheppard had dipped again to 9,644, with only 2,919 students in training--the lowest number since the base opened in October 1941.

During the 1950s, Sheppard became the most diversified training center in the Air Force. Comptroller, intelligence, and transportation training transferred from Lowry AFB, Colorado, in 1954, followed in 1958 by utilities and communication instruction from F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming. One year later, Sheppard assumed responsibility for field training, previously under the oversight of the 3499th Field Training Wing at Chanute.

The organizational structure of the technical training bases also changed in the late 1950s, when Air Training Command decided to replace its technical training wings with numbered air force-equivalent centers. Effective 1 January 1959, HQ ATC redesignated the 3750th Technical Training Wing as the Sheppard Technical Training Center (STTC).

Ballistic Missile Training

Sheppard's primary training mission had always consisted of aircraft maintenance courses. Maintenance on almost every type of aircraft in the Air Force inventory had been performed at the base. Beginning in 1955, the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles overshadowed the more traditional air crew training. Within four years, missile instruction became the largest training program taught by the technical training school. Of the 8,000 students enrolled at Sheppard on a daily basis, more than one-fourth were in missile training. Missile technicians came on-line with remarkable speed given the lack of training materials, equipment, facilities, and instructors. This training was all part of a plan by the Department of Defense to deploy as many intercontinental ballistic missiles as possible to offset a presumed Russian advantage in ballistic missiles.

On 3 October 1955, the Air Force made Sheppard the primary training center for the Atlas ballistic missile system. During the next two years, the base also became the prime center for the Jupiter and Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles, as well as the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile. By 1965 Sheppard had graduated more than 47,000 missile specialists. Thereafter, the pace of training slowed. Then in the mid-1980s, Sheppard ended its missile training program.

494th Bombardment Wing and the Cold War

Sheppard's participation in the Cold War assumed greater significance in the mid-to-late sixties, when the Air Force announced that Strategic Air Command (SAC) would put a B-52 wing at the base. On 5 January 1959, SAC activated the 4245th Strategic Wing. When the wing's first five B-52D Stratofortresses arrived on 15 January 1960, they landed on a new 13,100-foot runway, which the base had built to accommodate them.

On 15 November 1962, Strategic Air Command discontinued the 4245th. In its place, HQ USAF established and SAC activated the 494th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, also on 15 November. However Strategic Air Command did not organize (assign personnel to) the wing until 1 February 1963. The wing continued to operate at Sheppard until its inactivation on 2 April 1966.

Helicopter Instruction
Pilot Training

When the 494th inactivated, it left Sheppard with an empty 13, 100-foot r unway but not for long. In August 1965, an advanced party from Stead AFB, Nevada, arrived in a single H-19B helicopter to begin the ground work for moving helicopter training from Stead (which would close in 1966) to Sheppard. By year's end, twenty-six H-19Bs were in place for training purposes.

On 1 October 1965, Air Training Command activated the 3637th Flying Training Squadron (Helicopter) and assigned it to the center . Then on 10 December the command organized the 3630th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard and reassigned the 3637th to the wing. The wing reported directly to HQ ATC. Eighty percent of the wing's graduates went directly to Southeast Asia, and virtually all of its instructors were veterans of that conflict.

With the passage of time, the helicopter school began replacing its aging fleet of H-19s with T-1F Iroquois, as well as CH-3Cs, CH-3Es, and HH-43s. In 1970, at the direction of Congress, the Sheppard helicopter pilot training program ended. Future training would be provided by the Army.

Maintenance Training

Helicopter maintenance training began at Sheppard Field during World War II and lasted until the base inactivated in 1946. It returned to Sheppard in 1949-- transferred from Keesler, but in 1950 Air Training Command moved this training to San Marcos (later known as Edward Gary AFB), south of Austin, Texas.

When HQ USAF announced the closure of Edward Gary AFB in 1956, Air Training Command moved helicopter maintenance training back to Sheppard. Maintenance training remained at Sheppard until January 1995 when, as part of a joint training effort, the Air Force combined its courses with an Army program at Fort Eustis, Virginia. In the 1980s, Sheppard also conducted a helicopter flight engineer course. That program transferred to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, in 1988.

Air Force Medical Training

In January 1965, officials at HQ ATC sent a proposal to Washington to relocate the Medical Service School from Gunter AFB, Alabama, to Sheppard. With the phase down of missile training, Sheppard had ample classroom space to support the school. The Air Staff approved the proposal, and on 6 April 1966, the technical training school at Sheppard began this training.

In the Vietnam War, the school met increased student production by using multiple shifts and six-day training weeks. By fiscal year 1968, the number of medical technicians programmed to support the Vietnam War had grown by 25 percent. With the establishment of the Department of Biomedical Sciences on 1 April 1968, the school's organizational structure began to take on its modern character. Over the next two decades there were other changes, including the transfer of veterinary training to the Army in 1976. After a brief absence, medical readiness training returned to the base in 1982 when the school created a separate Department of Medical Readiness. Today, medical training is provided by the 82d Training Wing's 882d Training Group.

Field Training

In 1958 ATC began refining the field training concept. Under the prime training center philosophy, a specific technical training center was responsible for a particular weapon system. This change allowed ATC to discontinue its field training wing at Chanute in 1959, since all field and mobile training requirements had been assigned to the various bases providing technical training. Then in 1966, with the closure of Amarillo, ATC moved the bulk of the field training mission to Sheppard.

The worldwide scope of Sheppard's training responsibilities took on increasing importance in the 1960s, when Air Training Command began providing helicopter pilot training for South Vietnamese students through field training detachments. Other mobile training teams went to Southeast Asia to train US Air Force and Vietnamese personnel in the maintenance and use of various new weapon systems. In 1968 field training reached the zenith of its student production when it graduated nearly 500,000 technicians. By the early 1990s, it looked as though field training would become resident training; however, that all changed in 1995 when the Air Force decided to continue field training.

Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training

A new mission landed on Sheppard AFB in 1966, one that had an important role in rebuilding the German Air Force. On 24 August the 3630th Flying Training Wing embarked on an undergraduate flying training program for German pilots. For a short period in the 1960s, pilots from Nicaragua, Turkey, Ecuador, and other countries also participated in the program. The first pilots received their wings in early 1967.

Also, in early 1967, HQ USAF decided to train some of its own pilots with their German Air Force counterparts. The 3630th continued to provide this training until 1 January 1973, when Air Training Command replaced it with the newly activated 80th Flying Training Wing.

The 80th continued training German and US pilots until October 1981, when the United States and its NATO allies began a joint training venture, the Euro- NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program, at Sheppard. This became the new mission of the 80th Flying Training Wing. The 80th is the only internationally manned and managed undergraduate pilot training program serving all NATO nations. In addition, the 80th is one of two AETC flying wings that administer in- house training for pilot instructors. The other is the 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph AFB, Texas. So far, the ENJJPT program has trained more than 3,300 pilots for the NATO alliance.

Contemporary Training and Organizational Changes

Over the past 50 years, the training environment at Sheppard has undergone many changes. Television and televised classroom instruction appeared in the late 1950s. Then came computers and computer-assisted instruction. Today, Sheppard uses state-of-the-art technology in the classroom, as well as in the office. One of the places where exportable training has been most useful is in reducing the number of courses offered through field training, as managed by the 982d Field Training Group. Another area where technical training utilized computers was through the use of a fiber optic local area network of computer connected via a central data base.

Besides changes in training, Sheppard has also seen lots of organizational restructuring. Some of these changes have come about as the result of recent rounds of base closure, but the biggest changes came in response to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Merrill A. McPeak's "Year of Organization" and "Year of Training" initiatives. Effective 1 February 1992, Air Training Command reorganized its technical training centers as objective centers. Sheppard Technical Training Center became Sheppard Training Center. The technical training and field training wings became groups, and the groups became squadrons.

Even greater change took place on 1 July 1993 when HQ USAF redesignated Air Training Command as Air Education and Training Command (AETC). At that time, AETC activated two numbered air forces: Second Air Force to manage technical training and Nineteenth Air Force to oversee flying training. At the same time, AETC inactivated all of its training centers and replaced them with two-digit wings. Instead of Sheppard Training Center, Sheppard's host unit was now the 82d Training Wing.

Currently, the wing includes four training groups. The 82d and 782d offer resident technical training in all aspects of aircraft maintenance (fixed wing and helicopter), aircraft structural repair, civil engineering, comptroller, electronics, and telecommunication. Annually, more than 20,000 military, civilian, and allied students attend more than 380 technical courses provided by these groups. The 882d Training Group offers formal instruction in six medical specialties and allied sciences to include biomedical sciences, dentistry, health service administration, clinical sciences, medical readiness, and nursing. Overshadowing medical and technical training in terms of graduates is the 982d Training Group. With "The World Is Our Classroom" as its motto, the 982d develops and conducts Air Force specialty code (AFSC)- awarding and advanced weapon system training worldwide on aircraft weapon systems, missiles, ground radar and communications, and space systems. Additionally, it provides general courses in ground equipment maintenance, fundamentals of electronics, and technical data usage.

A veteran returning to Sheppard will find it dramatically changed. Everywhere one looks the base is bursting at the seams with new construction. New training and support buildings and renovated training facilities are all the result of the influx of training and students coming from two closure bases--Chanute and Lowry. Additionally, Sheppard has been the receipant interservice training with the Army and Navy, especially the medical and civil engineer career fields. Despite the physical changes, Sheppard has always been dedicated foremost to training airmen for the Air Force, and so it remains today. The achievements of the Air Force over the last 50 years are nothing if not a testament to the importance of training.