Thousands of hours in the air at RNAS Culdrose

Nov 15, 2011

Thousands of hours in the air at RNAS Culdrose

Lieutenant Commander Jon Wells, a helicopter pilot at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has passed an historic milestone in achieving over 8000 hours flying time in helicopters. To put this into perspective, 8000 hours, the equivalent of almost eleven months, is unusual in the helicopter world, involving approximately 4000 separate flights.

Another pilot, Lieutenant Commander Andrew ‘Tank’ Murray, has passed achieved over 7000 hours flying time in helicopters. With each helicopter flying hour requiring around 25 maintenance hours, Tank’s achievement equates to a whopping 175,000 maintenance hours!

Jon Wells was born in St Neots, Cambridgeshire in 1959 and educated in Royston, Herts, he joined the Royal Navy in 1979 as a direct entry pilot and after flying training (Chipmunk, Bulldog and Gazelle) his “Wings” were awarded in January 1981 and was presented with the Admiral Sir Dudley Pound prize for the top ASW pilot in 1981.

Frontline tours with 826NAS (Seaking) (Falklands campaign –HMS Hermes) and 820NAS (Orient Express – HMS Invincible) Squadrons led to an instructor’s qualification teaching on the Seaking helicopter with 706 Squadron. Promotion to Lieutenant Commander in 1991 coincided with his Command of the Royal Navy Loan Service Team to the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN). Based in Lumut, Perak, West Malaysia he was responsible for the training and operation of the RMN’s Wasp helicopter project – training 14 RMN pilots and160 engineers to UK standards. Upon his return to the UK he was the Air Operations Officer to HMS Invincible involving deployments to the Adriatic and the Balkans conflict.

Following a six-year sabbatical as a full time reservist and flying commercially as a line training captain with British International Helicopters on the S-61N helicopter, he returned to the RN as an instructor on the EH101 Merlin in 2002 with 824 Naval Air Squadron. After 4 years of training young aircrew (including 4 Japanese pilots) on the Merlin he became the Senior Pilot and Executive Officer of 829 NAS – responsible for operational flying standards of the 5 merlins embarked on Type 23 frigate s. Now the Maintenance Test Pilot at RNAS Culdrose he has amassed some 8000 hours and test flies the Seaking Mks 5/ASAC 7 and the Merlins HM Mk1,HC3 and 3A . Married to Ann, he has three daughters and enjoys most field sports and woodcraft.

Andrew Murray was born in Aldershot in 1965 and educated in Farnborough, and joined the Royal Navy in 1986 as a pilot. Following flying training, and affectionately known as “Tank” to everyone in the Fleet Air Arm, he was awarded his “Wings” in September 1988 and was also presented with the “Pussers Rum” prize for the student who the staff would most like to spend 24 hours in a life raft with.

Tank’s varied career includes frontline tours with 820 Naval Air Squadron during Operaton Telic, 814 Naval Air Squadron, and both 849A and B Flights. He has also served in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan and was appointed as Deputy Lieutenant Commander (Flying) on HMS Illustrious. Back at Culdrose he carried out Advanced and Operational Flying Training for Anti-Submarine Warfare pilots and was responsible for the Maritime Counter Terrorism duties on 771 Naval Air Squadron . His tour on 771 Squadron also included Search and Rescue tasking and this was followed by an appointment on HMS Gannet SAR Flight at Prestwick in Scotland. Having completed over 320 SAR missions he has been awarded a Green Endorsement for landing his helicopter safely after a failure of the tail rotor during a rescue in mountainous terrain and the Air Force Cross for gallantry during another mountain rescue after an avalanche.

His total of 7000 hours includes more than 6500 on the various types of Sea King – in his opinion the Queen of the Skies and a beautiful aircraft to fly!

He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1999 and is currently serving on 849 Naval Air Squadron as the Qualified Helicopter Instructor, Instrument Rating Instructor and Night Vision Goggle Instructor, training ab-initio aircrew and refresher crews in preparation for deployment to operations in Afghanistan where he will be joining them for another tour himself next year.

Married to Tania, he has two sons (George & Thomas) and lives in Helston. He enjoys spending time with his family, shooting and looking after his menagerie of various animals.