Born in Kansas, raised in Canada, educated in Texas – CAF Red Tail Squadron pilot Bill Shepard has a passion for aviation that spurs his continued dedication to the squadron and to RISE ABOVE. He developed a love of flying at a young age and today shares with us the path that led him to proudly fly the P-51C Mustang for the CAF Red Tail Squadron.
Aviation, and the intrigue and interest it inspired, has been a part of Bill’s life from a very young age. His father was a member of a United States Marine Corps fighter group and had fought in the Vietnam War. After moving to Canada as a youth, Bill joined the Royal Canadian 19th and 27th air cadet squadrons where he participated in a plethora of fun and challenging activities that prepared him for a future in the cockpit. “My main inspiration for aviation were the leaders in the cadet program as well as the TV icons of the Black Sheep Squadron,” recalls Bill.
Impressively, Bill earned his US private pilot’s license at age 16 while still in high school and went on to achieve a Canadian license as well. After college, Bill flew many different aircraft and eventually earned several ratings including over the top (OTT), night, multi, commercial and instrument flight rules (IFR).
Bill was drawn to warbirds and went on to fly the Canadian Harvard, know in the US as a T-6, a World War II-era single-engine advanced trainer aircraft. He currently is a member of the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, an all-volunteer group of enthusiasts determined to keep the legend of the Harvard alive. Their mission is to acquire, preserve, restore, maintain, display and demonstrate the Harvard and all other aircraft associated with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Bill is also a member of the Urban Pilots Network. This group of pilots gives their time and talent to bridge the gap between aviation and the urban community. “I currently participate in outreach programs with the group and try to ‘Inspire for Higher’ which is the motto of the Urban Pilots Network.,” says Bill.
Bill explains that he can attribute his success to hard work and living by the Tuskegee Airmen’s six principles. “With the support of my family I have been able to aim high; I believe in myself; I use my brain to achieve my goals; I never quit and instead find a way; I am always ready to go and am prepared; and truly in my heart – not just my brain – I expect to win!”
After many years performing on a warbird formation team, Bill was invited to join the CAF Red Tail Squadron. “I was presented with an opportunity I would have to work for,” remembers Bill. “After my first ride in a Mustang, I was in heaven! Doug Rozendaal, another one of the Squadron’s pilots, reminded me that if you were strong enough and want it bad enough you would find a way, and that gave me a new height to aim for.”
After a year of study and investing his time and personal resources, Bill became a certified P-51C Mustang pilot, a dream come true. He is one of two men of color flying a C model in the world – quite an achievement.
In his service to the Squadron, Bill has particularly enjoyed the times he’s worked directly with some of the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen who so generously give of their time to volunteer with the organization. “I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the many, many stories of how the Airmen have made a positive impact in so many lives,” says Bill. “Their influence and inspiration spans the eras – yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
When asked about his years in the cockpit and why he joined the CAF Red Tail Squadron, Bill shares, “I feel it was a result of following those six principles, as we share in the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and our educational outreach programs. I don’t subscribe to a ‘can’t’ attitude. I was raised to improvise, adapt and overcome, and to spend my energy on how you can get it done and think beyond your nose.”
Thank you Bill for your continued passion and service to the CAF Red Tail Squadron and the communities we serve!