WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - For aspiring fighter pilots across Europe, the dream of flying starts at Sheppard Air Force Base and goes through the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program.
“All German fighter pilots have been trained here,” German Operations Group Commander Col. Stefan Kleinheyer said. “I was trained here in 1992 so Wichita Falls is a little bit of home.”
The program is the only multi-nationally manned and managed training program in the entire world. For forty years, has been the first step for those who want to serve their air force, with candidates coming from 14 different nations.
“Sheppard itself and the base has changed a little bit but the school has evolved as the time progressed in the last 30 years I want to say, but it’s still the same principles,” said Col. Kleinheyer.
After candidates complete the necessary testing in their home country, they are then sent to Sheppard for a 13-month course. While the majority of people train for work that happens on the ground, a handful makes their way into the air.
“They fly the T-6 first which is a propeller-driven plane so it’s a little slower to get them into the business of flying,” Col. Kleinheyer said. “Then after that, they’re gonna fly the T-38 which is a trans-sonic jet, as we like to say, just barely supersonic speed so, they learn how to do it at a little bit faster pace.”
One of the biggest traditions of the program is dunking pilots into a tub of water after their first solo flight in the T-6. And, once they can manage the faster pace of the T-38 and their training is complete, each pilot moves onto a new base in their home country, leaving behind a global footprint from their first steps in the Air Force here in Wichita Falls.
“There’s a lot of time that leaves an imprint on my career and gave me a network already from the beginning when I was a young pilot,” Col. Kleinheyer said.