Defense News
March 6, 2023

Preparing for Russia: Inside NATO fighter pilot training in Texas

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – More than 5,000 miles from NATO’s eastern flank, a new generation of allied fighter pilots is coming of age in North Texas.

After decades of peace at home, American and European airmen here face a new reality: They are the frontline flyers who will keep Russia’s war in Ukraine from spilling across NATO’s borders, and the instructors who will teach the new pilots how to do it.


“Within a year, they could find themselves flying in a combat environment, and they need to prepare themselves every single day with that eventuality in mind,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Brad Orgeron, who oversees the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program as the 80th Flying Training Wing commander here….

More than 8,000 NATO aviators have earned their wings in Wichita Falls, Texas, since the program began in 1981. Over 200 student pilots, plus the instructors who also train here, graduate each year.

About 60% of the students are American. The remainder hail from 13 countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom….

The base has produced more than half of the U.S. Air Force’s fighter pilots. Five countries – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway – send all of their pilots to train at Sheppard….

Orgeron believes that shared training and the trust built at Sheppard allowed NATO to spin up its defenses within hours last year.

Joint air operations have expanded into around-the-clock fighter patrols of NATO airspace over Eastern Europe, constant drone surveillance and a growing number of simulated defensive drills with anti-missile systems.