WICHITA FALLS, TX (TNN) - Since 1981 the Euro Nato Joint Jet Pilot Training program has been operating out of Sheppard Air Force Base. It produces half of the fighter jet pilots for the U.S. military. For five NATO countries, it is the sole source of jet pilot training, and it’s growing. Two more nations will start training at Sheppard this year. Now leaders have to figure out how to fit everyone on base.
"We now have 14 nations. I think that's quite a number. When I went through pilot training we had 7 or something," says ENJJPT Steering Committee Chairman German Air Force Brigadier General Andi Hoppe. "We are still growing, and our intent is to grow further. Before we do that we have to stabilize the program and be sure what capabilities we have to encompass more nations."
Romania and the United Kingdom are set to start flying the skies of Texoma this year. That means more student pilots, instructors, and aircraft. It also means they need more room.
"If you take a look at the program as it's currently designed, then yes, we start to get to some limitations as to the number of people we can have and some of those physical limitations," says 80th Flying Training Wing Commander Colonel Russell Driggers.
General Hoppe said, “We gain capabilities through more efficiency in the training itself, but at the end, you need certain numbers of aircraft standing on the ramp. This limits you to the ramp basically.”
Technology in the form of virtual reality and state of the art simulators may be the answer to the limitations when it comes to the program growing, and the base not having to start looking for new physical space.
"The idea is, hopefully, we can use those technologies and do some thinking about how people learn, to actually get the capacity to increase would kind of change the game a little bit," said Col. Driggers.
The bottom line in all of this is, the EMJJPT program and Sheppard are together, and will stay that way. But as the program evolves and grows, SAFB officials will be making sure the base is growing with the program as well.