The Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) Program at Sheppard AFB, TX, is the largest multi-national training scheme in the world, with most of the NATO alliance members participating. Paul Dunn takes a look at this well established joint venture.
The majority of US military pilots gain their wings in the southern US states, at bases in the likes of Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi, mostly as part of the Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (JSUPT) system. The USAF element of the JSUPT program is located at Vance AFB, OK, Columbus AFB, MS and Laughlin and Randolph AFBs, TX, with students initially flying the Raytheon T-6A Texan II before moving on to more advanced types depending on their ‘track’ – fighter/bomber, airlift/tanker or rotary.
In addition to these JSUPT bases, a much smaller proportion of USAF pilots attend flight training at Sheppard AFB, TX, home to a multi-national training school, set up to train pilots from the US, alongside students from other countries within the NATO alliance.
The Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program can trace its origins back to the early 1970s, when the rising cost of training pilots led a group of European NATO alliance member countries to examine the idea of establishing a jointly operated and funded training centre. The European flying environment was challenging, with poor weather and airspace restrictions leading to less than ideal conditions for training pilots in high performance aircraft.
In 1974, the US was one of several countries to set out proposals to host such a joint training centre; the American proposal was adopted in 1978, with the plan being for the training base to be located in the US for an initial period of ten years. Sheppard AFB was the home of the 80th Flight Training Wing (FTW), which was already providing training to Dutch and German student pilots, so it was a logical choice for the new training centre; the official announcement was made in 1980, and the ENJJPT Program opened for business in October 1981. The initial 10 year hosting period has been extended several times and there are currently no plans to move ENJJPT to another location.
When the ENJJPT Program was established, the 80th FTW was equipped with the Cessna T-37 Tweet and the Northrop T-38A Talon. All the aircraft remained in USAF markings; in recognition of the joint nature of the program, the aircraft used by the 80th FTW were marked with a stylised NATO emblem on the fin.
Today, flight training at Sheppard AFB is still provided by the 80th FTW of the USAF, now allocated to Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The wing has five training squadrons under its command. Of these, two fly the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II and three are equipped with the T-38C Talon.
Based on the Swiss designed Pilatus PC-9, the T-6A is a single-engined turboprop trainer, which is used for basic pilot training. It was introduced into service with the USAF in 2001, as a replacement for the T-37. The 80th FTW was, in fact, the last unit to complete replacement of the T-37, with the final examples leaving in the summer of 2009. The T-6A is used by the 89th Flight Training Squadron (FTS) ‘Banshees’ and the 459th FTS ‘Twin Dragons’.
The T-38C is the upgraded version of the T-38 Talon, which has served the USAF as an advanced trainer for over 50 years. The T-38C features modifications to the engine and air intake to increase thrust and improve reliability. The aircraft has also received new avionics and an improved cockpit with HUD. Within the 80th FTW, the T-38 equips three squadrons: the 88th FTS ‘Lucky Devils’; the 90th FTS ‘Boxing Bears’ and the 469th FTS ‘Fighting Bulls’.
The ENJJPT is a highly integrated organisation, with personnel drawn from all the participating nations. Currently, there are 13 nations involved in the program. Of these, nine nations (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Spain and the US) send students for training at Sheppard AFB, and provide a number of instructors based on the number of students assigned. The four other participating nations (Canada, Greece, Portugal and the UK) do not currently have students in training at ENJJPT, but provide an instructor pilot each.
The ENJJPT Program is the largest such joint endeavour; the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) scheme is also multi-national in nature, but on a much smaller scale. Students spend just over a year at Sheppard AFB, and in the region of 200 graduate each year.
One interesting fact about the aircraft of the ENJJPT Program is that a considerable number are technically on the strength of the Luftwaffe. This was true of the T-37 and remains so with the current equipment. Germany is listed as owning a total of 69 T-6s and 35 T-38Cs, although they carry USAF markings and are indistinguishable from American owned aircraft.
The integration of the organisation means that the leadership positions within the squadrons are rotated among personnel from the participating nations, although the 80th FTW is always commanded by a USAF colonel. Student pilots can be assigned to an instructor from any participating country, and are likely to interact with personnel from many different nations. This increases their understanding of other cultures within NATO, helping to encourage cooperation in joint operations when students graduate and find themselves flying their operational types.
The Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program has helped to train generations of pilots for a host of NATO alliance countries, in particular helping some of the smaller nations, such as Denmark or Norway, whose air forces do not require large numbers of pilots, meaning that they do not need to run expensive training programmes themselves. At the same time, it has brought together NATO students in the spirit of international cooperation, to properly prepare them for the realities of operations in a multi-national coalition.