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Multinational jet pilot training program contract extended at Sheppard

In this undated file photo by the U.S. Air Force, 1st Lt. Stephen Thomas, left, and Capt. Lars Holten prepare for takeoff in a T-38 Talon at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Holten, an instructor pilot from Norway, and Thomas are in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program.

The future of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, looks bright.

According to 80th Flying Training Wing Commander Col. Lance Bunch, a contract to keep the ENJJPT program at Sheppard was extended from 2016 to 2026 at the last steering committee meeting.

The ENJJPT program is a multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program that produces combat pilots for the NATO alliance. ENJJPT has instructors and pilots in training from 13 countries.

“They are happy with the program. We’ve been successful here,” Bunch said.

Bunch also announced that Romania is sending delegates to the base in early July to view the facility and see whether it meets the needs of the Romanian air force.

The Romanians will spend about two and a half days doing a site survey of Sheppard to see whether they would like to train their future fighter pilots here.

No other countries are currently looking to join ENJJPT said Bunch, but they are always open to the opportunity for other NATO countries to join the program if they so desire.

Bunch said the extended drought in the Wichita Falls, Texas, area has not yet prompted the Air Force to move the ENJJPT program from Sheppard.

In 2009, the base used 600,000 gallons of water, and as of 2013, they were able to cut that usage by 50 percent.

He said they strive to run the most resource-efficient program possible.

“Our key competitive advantage is that we have the best pilots and best instructors in the world gathered together with a common vision,” Bunch said.

Bunch emphasized that ENJJPT is not a U.S. program but an international partnership for which the U.S. is a host nation.

“That is something that is unique in the Air Force and unique to the Department of Defense,” Bunch said.

The ENJJPT program began in October 1981 and graduates eight classes of pilots each year. Sheppard is the second busiest air field in the Air Force outside a combat zone.

Bunch said visitors from partner nations cite three reasons why Sheppard is the ideal spot for ENJJPT training: great weather for flying, a large amount of unhindered air space and community support.

“They have families that live downtown; their kids are in the local schools. They feel welcome here,” Bunch said.

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