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Where NATO’s fighter pilots are born

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For many of NATO’s aspiring fighter pilots, the journey begins in Texas, where the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training programme churns out the next generation of Allied aviators.

Synopsis

There’s something that fighter pilots from Belgium, Denmark, Germany and 11 other NATO Allies have in common: their flying careers started in Texas, USA.
That’s where the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) programme has been training pilots since the early 80s, when a number of countries decided to found the programme at Sheppard Air Force Base. While conceived of as a cost-saving measure, giving Allies the chance to pool resources in the resource-intensive task of training new fighter pilots, this training has since become a place for students and instructors to pass on tactics and form multinational relationships that will span their careers. Allies contributing to this training are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Türkiye, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Throughout the course, students learn the fundamentals of flight, progressing from ground school to the prop-driven T-6 Texan trainer - and finally to the T-38 Talon, a supersonic jet trainer that prepares them for the physical and mental strain of flying tactical aircraft. With 12-hour working days and plenty of bookwork to supplement the flying, this course ensures that only the most skilled and most dedicated graduates serve as fighter pilots in their country’s air forces.
This video follows Royal Danish Air Force Lieutenant ”Bun” and Belgian Air Force Lieutenant Jade. Having since completed the programme, ‘Bun’ is now training to fly C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, while Jade is preparing to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Future generations of Belgian pilots will also have the chance to fly the F-35 Lightning II, as Belgium is in the process of adding these assets to its fleet. The first F-35A jet will enter service at Luke Air Force Base in the United States in 2024, and at Florennes Air Base in Belgium from 2025 onwards.

Transcript

TRANSCRIPT (AUDIO AND TEXT ON SCREEN)

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘If you had to guess where Danish or Belgian fighter pilots learned how to fly, would you say Texas?

It seems unlikely, but it’s true. For 40 years, aspiring pilots from more than a dozen NATO nations have travelled to the USA to learn how to fly at Sheppard Air Force Base, home to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training programme.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Captain Christina Wagner
Instructor, Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training programme

‘We’re looking for that drive,
that determination. A lot of people naturally have that ingrained in them, and that’s why they chose this profession.’

TEXT ON SCREEN
WHERE NATO’S FIGHTER PILOTS ARE BORN

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘Welcome to Texas. It’s a long way from Europe, but if NATO’s student pilots are going to become fully fledged military aviators, they still have a long way to go.”

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Lieutenant “Bun”
Royal Danish Air Force

‘I wanted to become a pilot since I was a small boy. And when I joined the air force just after high school, I decided that going for the pilot path was my dream.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Lieutenant Jade
Belgian Air Force

‘Everyone wishes to have an impact on the world, and that’s how I think I can make the biggest impact.’

These young men and women are stepping into a decades-long tradition of multinational training. More than 40 years ago, several NATO Allies wanted to find a more efficient way to train fighter pilots. They decided then to set up a joint course at Sheppard Air Force Base, where frequently clear skies made for an ideal training environment.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Colonel Scott Gunn
Vice Wing Commander, ENJJPT

‘It was founded in October of 1980 and initially had a few partners. Germany and the US had been training together. It has since grown to 14 nations that send us instructors, students.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘Today this course works like a microcosm of the larger Alliance, from the nations involved to the way they make decisions.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Colonel Scott Gunn
Vice Wing Commander, ENJJPT

‘It allows us to get, from the very beginning of our military careers, an appreciation and understanding of the cultures of our Allies.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘When student aviators arrive, they undergo an intensive academic course known as ground school.

After that, it’s on to their first aircraft, the T-6 Texan II, a turboprop jet designed to teach them the fundamentals of flight, including take-offs, landings and formations.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Lieutenant “Bun”
Royal Danish Air Force

‘The first time climbing in the T-6 was really exciting, because we’d been so much in the simulator.

But still, it’s really hard to prepare for the real thing. So just getting to do the ground operations and pressing all the right switches at the right moment, it was quite difficult, but as you get more experienced, it becomes more and more natural.

Flying the T-6 is an awesome experience. It’s a really powerful aircraft. You can pull some Gs and do some aerobatics in the area, so that’s really nice.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘Some students then move on to the T-38 Talon, a jet fighter trainer capable of supersonic speeds and dizzying feats of aerobatics.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Captain Christina Wagner
Instructor, ENJJPT

‘Going from the T-6 Texan to a supersonic jet trainer … obviously a lot faster. You get some afterburner. That’s pretty fun.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Lieutenant Jade
Belgian Air Force

‘In the beginning, first flight I had on T-38, you light the afterburners and you just release the brakes and you feel the afterburners kick in for the first time. It’s an amazing feeling.

The T-38 is difficult. You have to push yourself to your limits. In formation you have to monitor the other aircraft. You have to match him, you have to be able to anticipate.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘All the while, students are immersed in a multinational environment.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Captain Christina Wagner
Instructor, ENJJPT

‘A student might have an Italian flight commander and a German squadron commander. The point is we, as NATO, can truly come up with the most efficient and best practices for our air forces.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘For students, the days start early and end late. They sacrifice sleep for study time, leisure for long sessions in the simulator. Being a military aviator takes more than raw skill. It takes grit.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Colonel Scott Gunn
Vice Wing Commander, ENJJPT

‘A lot of the folks that arrive here are the best of the best of the best. They’re the top 10 per cent in their classes. Many of them are not used to failing. But they are put in challenges frankly just not natural for the human body and the human mind. And oftentimes they meet with failure for the first time in their lives. And the big thing that we emphasise to them is ‘that’s OK’. You move past it, you learn from it, and that experience of those little micro-failures so you can ultimately reach success, is probably one of the greater assets of this programme.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

There’s a reason behind the marathon study sessions and the long days in the cockpit. These men and women aren’t just pilots. They’re military officers, sworn to protect their country and their Allies. Should NATO need to defend itself, some of that responsibility would fall on their shoulders.

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Colonel Scott Gunn
Vice Wing Commander, ENJJPT

‘The conflict that’s going on right now in Ukraine has definitely changed the tenor. Definitely focused everyone’s attention, make sure that they are on-point, and try to do not just enough to get by, but to be the best they can, in the event that, some time in the future, they are called to serve the NATO alliance.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

When the students pass the final tests here, there’s only one thing left to do: figure out which aircraft they’ll spend their careers flying.

They find out at a ceremony they call ‘Drop Night’.

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Captain Christina Wagner
Instructor, ENJJPT

‘Usually it’s a ton of emotions, a ton of excitement. The class is there for support. Everyone loves celebrating as a class.’

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Lieutenant Jade
Belgian Air Force

‘I want to fly the F-16, the Viper. It’s the only fighter aircraft we have in Belgium, but it’s a good one.’

—BACKGROUND SOUND IN ENGLISH —

Drop Night announcer
“Alright, where are you going?”

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —

Lieutenant Jade
Belgian Air Force

Working together with student pilots from almost all over the world, it’s been for me, like, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life, I would say.

You get friends that you will have for life. You will most probably work with them in the future.’

—VOICEOVER IN ENGLISH —

‘It’s a thrilling moment, and NATO’s newest pilots carry themselves with hard-earned pride. From here, it’s back to their home countries to train on their assigned aircraft, and prepare themselves for the task of securing NATO’s skies.’

TEXT ON SCREEN
Lt. Jade is now training to fly F-16 Fighting Falcons for the Belgian Air Force.

Lt. ‘Bun’ is training to fly C-130 Hercules transport aircraft for the Royal Danish Air Force.

END
Music
“Mood Phase Five” by Elliot; “Recovery” by O’Brien; “Streets at Night” by Doddy; “Victory Lap” by Turner, Miller, Robinson; “Here to Win” by Vitani, Gallicani
Usage rights
This media asset is free for editorial broadcast, print, online and radio use. It is restricted for use for other purposes. Some footage courtesy of the US Department of Defense. This video includes Thomson Reuters copyrighted library material licensed by NATO, which cannot be used as part of a new production without consent of the copyright holder. Please contact Thomson Reuters to clear this material.
Reference
NATO924301
ID
2079