Sheppard Air Force Base
Sheppard Air Force Base (1941-Active) - A United States Air Force Base first established in 1941 as Sheppard Army Air Field at Wichita Falls, Wichita County, Texas. Named for Texas Senator Morris Sheppard. Renamed Sheppard Air Force Base in 1949. Active U.S. Air Force Base.
Pre World War II
(Text adapted from USAF Fact Sheet)
In July 1940 an Army Air Corps team identified several hundred acres of flat land near the present day Wichita Falls, Texas, for a proposed training base. The site was near the 3,000-foot runway at Kell Field, which could provide Air Corps personnel and pilots easy access to the proposed installation.
In March 1941 the War Department gave final approval for an Air Corps technical training center. On 17 Apr 1941, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall announced 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. A 20-man permanent party arrived from Chanute Field on 14 June 1941 to establish a Post Headquarters and Air Corps Supply Depot. The same day the Army Adjutant General’s Office officially designated the encampment as Sheppard Field, Wichita Falls, Texas. Two days later, Colonel Edward C. Black became Sheppard’s first commander.
Initially planned as an aviation mechanics school, the training plan was revised to include a basic training center. In addition to the 16,122 soldiers originally projected for the aviation mechanics program, basic training added another 10,000.
Sheppard officials were ordered to begin training on 13 Oct 1941, four days before Army officials dedicated the base, and less than two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Two hundred twenty students were in the first aviation mechanics course.
The school trained Airmen to maintain virtually every system used in fighters and medium bombers. The planned production of 5,000 mechanics grew to 40,000 per year. Basic training at Sheppard started on 14 Oct 1941.
World War II
The United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941. The U.S. declared war on Japan on 8 Dec 1941 and Germany declared war on the U.S. on 11 Dec 1941. Colonel Black added a sixth day of instruction to each of the two eight-hour shifts. 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. In April 1942, classes started every sixth day, versus every two weeks, to meet the expanding training requirements. In October, the school implemented a third shift 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. In March 1942, the War Department authorized an additional $1.6 million for new construction of more than 30 new buildings.
In September 1942, glider mechanic training commenced, and glider pilot training started about a year later both supporting the planned use of gliders during the invasion of Europe. 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.
A Liaison Pilot School, helicopter training for both mechanics and pilots, and flight engineer courses for B-29 and C-82s, followed. By the end of the war in August 1945, more than 42,000 aircraft mechanics, 1,800 glider mechanics and 445,000 basic trainees had passed through Sheppard.
Manpower at Sheppard peaked at 46,000 in October 1945, when the base served as an Army Air Forces separation center.
On 31 Aug 1946, Sheppard closed its gates when the War Department placed Sheppard on inactive status with a caretaker unit. The War Department turned over some buildings to government agencies and non-profit organizations.
On 1 Aug 1948 the Air Force reopened the base as Sheppard Air Force Base. Initially, the base provided basic military training, augmenting the over-taxed facility at Lackland Air Force Base. In January 1949, aircraft maintenance training and helicopter flight training returned to Sheppard as the basic training mission wound down. At the beginning of April, Sheppard’s official mission switched from basic training to aircraft maintenance. Along with this came the influx of training airframes, such as the A-26, B-25, B-29, and P-47; the first and last proved especially useful in training foreign students. Over time, new types of aircraft arrived, such as the C-124 Globemaster II and B-36 Peacemaker.
On 18 January 1950, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington announced the desigation of Shepard as a permanent Air Force base.
The number of students and instructors rapidly increase in response to the outbreak of the Korean War. After the end of the war, training fell off sharply, and by mid-1954, Sheppard’s population stood at 9,644, with only 2,919 students in training—the lowest number since the base opened in October 1941.
As a result, the US established a large peacetime military. For Sheppard, this included new construction for family housing and training facilities, along with runway repairs. As the Air Force’s composition changed, a combination of additional technical specialties, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles maintenance, and transfer of support functions from the Army, such as civil engineering, communication, comptroller, or transportation meant Sheppard became home to new training courses.
An operational mission came to Sheppard on 15 Jan 1960 when Strategic Air Command activated a bomb wing. This included aerial refueling and bombardment squadrons with KC-97s and B-52s. SAC inactivated the wing in April 1966 but kept a detachment at the base until the early 1970s.
Even before the SAC wing left, helicopter training returned to Sheppard in mid-1965. But when the bomb wing left, it opened up facilities for other use. Air Training Command stood up a flying training wing to train US and foreign students in the T-37 and T-38 aircraft.
Missile systems training was an important part of the U.S. nuclear deterrence mission, by 1965 Sheppard had graduated over 47,000 specialists from its ICBM courses in a matter of eight years.
Base closures and mission realignments at other bases also brought new missions to Sheppard, including Air Force Medical training from Gunter Air Force Base and more aircraft maintenance courses from Amarillo Air Force Base.
By the late 1960s, Air Training Command focused on increased production demands brought about by the Vietnam war. About 80 percent of Sheppard’s helicopter pilot training graduates received assignments to Southeast Asia.
The 1970s brought a change to the flying training mission, which previously fell under the Sheppard Technical Training Center. First, in 1971 helicopter pilot training moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama. Then in 1972, Air Training Command activated the 80th Flying Training Wing.
Sheppard’s composition and mission remained steady again for most of the next decade, except for the transfer of all ICBM training to Vandenberg Air Force Base. The closures of Lowry Air Force Base and Chanute Air Force Base and a change in training philosophy brought virtually all Air Force aircraft maintenance training to Sheppard, while some other courses moved elsewhere.
Cold War Ends
On 1 Jul 1993, HQ USAF re-designated Air Training Command as the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) and Sheppard Training Center, became the 82d Training Wing.
In 2005, a round of Base Realignment and Closure actions directed all enlisted medical training to Fort Sam Houston. The majority of the 882d Training Group began relocating in 2010, with the move completed in September 2011.
Currently, Sheppard’s host wing consists of three training groups. The 82d and 782d Training Groups offer resident technical training in all aspects of aircraft maintenance and repair, armament and munitions, civil engineering, and supplemental courses in communications. Annually, more than 18,000 military, civilian, and allied students attend more than 380 technical courses provided by these groups at Sheppard, with another 5,550-plus at other locations.
The 982nd Training Group, produces over 35,000 graduates a year. The 982nd develops and conducts Air Force Specialty Code-awarding and advanced weapon system training worldwide on aircraft weapons systems, missiles, ground radar, communications, and space systems. It provides general courses in ground equipment maintenance, fundamentals of electronics, and technical data usage.
Sheppard has trained more than 1 million people.