Back to 1961 - 70










1. Name John GILBERT
2. Date Enlisted 5 September 1961
3. Date Retired 26 December 1984
4. Rank WO2
5. Awarded Wings 2 May 1969
6. Flying Schools

School of Army Aviation Middle Wallop

7. Types Flown

Chipmunk T10                                           
Hiller 12B                                             
Sioux AH Mk1                                             
Scout AH1                                             
Gazelle AH1

8. Squadrons

45 Cdo RM Air Troop as an Observer
3 Cdo Bde Air Sqn RM
658 Sqn AAC, 1 Div Avn Regt

10. Aircraft Carriers

HMS Albion
HMS Bulwark
HMS Eagle
HMS Hermes
HMS Fearless
HMS Intrepid

11. Decorations And Medals General Service Medal with Radfan, South Arabia and Northern Ireland clasps.
South Atlantic Medal.
Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
Queens Golden Jubilee Medal. (Serving Police Officer at the time)
12. General

John started his flying career in 1966 as an Observer in 45 Cdo RM Air Troop. Flying with illustrious Corps aviators Lts "Wiggy" Bennett and Ian Uzzel, Sgts (later Lts) John Frost and Derek Blevins and finally Sgt Jim Mackie. Having been bitten by the flying bug and finding it less strenuous than being an MFC and yomping everywhere he applied for a pilots course.

In early 1968 he attended a Pre Pilots Selection Course held at RMB Eastney along with seven other hopefuls. After two weeks of brainstorming the top six contenders were dispatched off to Biggin Hill to sit the aptitude tests then on to Seafield Park for the medical. John & Alan Streeter were the two who were not selected to go forward at that time and were told that they may be called for in the future if the Corps got really desperate for pilots!!.

The Corps obviously got really desperate as all of the six potenial pilots failed either the aptitude tests or the medical. John was sent for along with Alan Streeter and the rest is history as they both passed the tests and were allocated courses at Middle Wallop, Alan on 202 and John on 205 Army Pilots Course. There is a moral in there somewhere.

John had no real problems flying the Chipmunk although his instructor, Mr (GOD) Jenkins, the most feared of all the ex-war time pilots there, said that he flew it by numbers. It was on Basic Rotary where he encountered a problem which was that he couldn't land the Hiller. His instructor, Staff Sergeant Bill Bailey told him that in every other respect he was ready to be sent solo but as John couldn't land the beast it was not an option and he would have to have a check flight with the Senior Instructor, Arthur Sharples. The problem with not being able to land it went back to his time in Aden when as an Observer and flying with Derek Blevins and John Frost he would be told by them that "a good pilot doesn't know he has landed until the lever can't be lowered any more" or "have we arrived yet as that was so smooth" etc, etc. This was obviously in the back of his mind and as soon as the beast got near the ground it all went pear shaped.

The day arrived for John to have his check flight with Arthur Sharples and was told to go and start it up and he would join him. On his arrival at the aircraft Arthur said "I understand you can't land it". "Yes" was John's reply. Get it into a hover about a foot high, John did as he was told and Arthur then said "let go of the lever." For those readers who have never flown a Hiller there was no Hydraulics and you literally lifted it into the air using sheer strength and if you let the lever go it dropped like a stone. After being told three times to let go of the lever John did so with the anticipated result that the Hiller hit the ground. A big smile came over Arthur's face and said " I can't see the problem you landed the "Bugger". After several more controlled crashes things got better and John was sent solo.

John was awarded his wings on the 2nd May 1969 by Maj Gen Broke, the father of Lt G.R.S Broke RA one of his fellow students.

He was drafted to the newly formed 3 Cdo Bde Air Sqn RM in Singapore where after completing the theatre conversion course at Kluang with the Army Air Corps  he joined Kangaw Flight which was commanded by Lt Peter Cameron, who later became Squadron Commander during the South Atlantic Operation. He spent the next two years learning his trade and how to conduct himself as a newly promoted Sergeant under the guidance sometimes quite forcibly by the Squadron Commander Captain David Storrie. He says that the bruises have faded.

At the end of the tour he transferred to Dieppe Flight to cover the withdrawal from Singapore and the Persian Gulf returning to the UK just in time for Christmas 1971.

After completion of foreign service leave he rejoined the Squadron at Coypool only to be told not to unpack his bags as he was going to BAOR on an exchange with the Army Air Corps. He joined 658 Sqn AAC based at Minden in Northern Germany which was to be home for the following two years. It was a total change of flying techniques and procedures as in the Far East you flew as high as neccesary and now it was as low as possible to be able to avoid being detected on the Red Army's radar. During the tour he went with the Squadron to Northern Ireland and spent four months at Ballykelly. He also spent three months at the BATUS Ranges at Suffield in Alberta, Canada. As he was the only pilot with any experience of flying at sea he was selected to fly the Regiments' aircraft being backloaded to RNAY Wroughton, in Wiltshire. Each trip took three days with a few days extra leave tagged on the end.

He returned to the Squadron in May 1974 and joined Dieppe Flight just in time to be sent to Cyprus prior to the invasion of the island by the Turkish Army. During the deployment he had to fly from the Sovereign Base Area (SBA) at Episkopi to the SBA at Dekhelia and pick up the SBA Commander for a conference with the GOC at Episkopi and on completion return him to Dekhelia. This sortie had taken days to organise as all flights were restricted to the SBA areas. Once the Turkish Forces had agreed that the flight could take place and that he could have an escort of two Phantoms. He set off only to be asked by a very bored Crab pilot on about his twentieth overtaking pass "are you absolutely sure you can't go any faster". He was managing a very creditable sixty knots airspeed at the time.

January 1975 saw the introduction of the Gazelle to the Squadron and John was on No 8 Conversion Course. This was followed by a four month Westlant deployment to Peurto Rico, Aruba, Curacao, Vieques, Fort Lauderdale, St Johns, Blissville, Montreal and Quebec City. Sadly not much flying went on as the Gazelle was experiencing the jet pipe problem which dogged its early days of operational duty. The runs ashore weren't bad though!!!!

It was back to the UK and back to the Sioux for John as Kangaw flight was off to Northern Ireland and was still equipped with the Sioux and needed a pilot with some experience so John spent the following four months at Belfast Sydenham.

This was followed by a two year ground tour at CTCRM in the Training Co-ordination Centre. Whilst there he was promoted Colour Sergeant.

July 1978 saw John back at Middle Wallop on a Scout conversion course. On completion he went with Brunei Flight to Belize for four months. He remained with the flight until December 1980 when he hung up his flying helmet and was appointed the Squadron Sergeant Major for his last ground tour.

It was quite a ground tour with the South Atlantic Operation and the move of the Squadron from Coypool to RNAS Yeovilton taking place.

He retired on Boxing Day 1984 and joined the "MOD PLOD". He plodded on until he took early retirement in 2003. He now lives with his wife Monica in Central Brittany.