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1. Name Steve Bidmead
2. Date Commissioned 23 January 1967
3. Date Retired 01 April 1978
4. Rank Captain
5. Awarded Wings 13 December 1973
6. Flying Schools Army Air Corps Center, Middle Wallop
RAF Central Flying School (Shawbury)
7. Types Flown

Bell 47
Sioux
Gazelle
Bell 212
Bell Cobra
Alouette 2 and 3
Bell 206
BO105
En F-28
AS365c and N Dauphin
AS350/355 Squirrel
MD Explorer
Wessex
Puma
Agusta109
H500
BN-2
DC3
PA28
C150/172
GrAA5
Optica

8. Squadrons 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron
15/19 Hussars Air Troop
ARW sqn, Army Air Corps Centre
9. Aircraft Carriers HMS Hermes
HMS Albion
HMS Bulwark
10. Decorations And Medals General Service Medal Northern Ireland and Dhofar
11. General Steve was commissioned with Batch YO35 in January 1967. The following years saw him in G Company of 41 Cdo, and L Company of 42 Cdo in Singapore. There he took over 6 troop, one of whose riflemen was Marine Pete Beeston, also destined to become an aviator. A section commander was a Corporal Duke, who had passed his pilot´s course, but could not pass his SCC and could therefore not be posted as a pilot!

Having become an accomplished Jungle Bunny and Bugis Street Rat, Steve volunteered for active service in the Dhofar War. After the Arabic course, he joined Muscat Regiment for 20 months of fabulous soldiering, although it did cost him a bullet hole in his belly! In January 1973 he joined 230 Army Pilots Course at Middle Wallop, along with Sgt Ken Blain RM. There was a sobering warning for them on the first day. The previous RM student had been axed after returning from a Navex with bits of tree wrapped round his undercarriage. The Corps was not amused!

Steve´s Chipmunk instructor was the infamous Joe Ruprecht. Joe supposedly escaped from the Nazis in his native Czechoslovakia by stealing one of their planes, and flying all across Europe to join the RAF! He was also well known for unscrewing his joystick whilst his student was flying, and hitting the student over the helmet with the joystick!

The only hiccup in Steve´s course was in Basic Rotary where he was put on review. Steve´s heart sank deeper when learning that his new instructor was the gruff chief pilot, Arthur Sharples! But Steve got on fine with Arthur and never looked back.

By the time he got to Advanced Rotary it was the beginning of the Rugby Season. It was an unwritten rule that students did not play rugby but Steve wanted to play, and duly formed up in front of the CFI. Permission was granted, but with dire warnings of what would happen if injury affected his flying fitness. In the event he stayed injury free long enough- just!! On December 11th he passed his Final Handling Test, and that same afternoon crunched his ankle, which needed plastering! By then, Steve had become course leader due to the original being back-coursed. The problem was the Wings Parade in a couple of day´s time. It was a rare event for two Royals to get their Wings on the same day, and a Royal Marines Brigadier was booked for the presentation, but Steve could not march! So, before the Parade, he was hobbled onto the Parade Ground/ hangar floor, and relieved of his crutch. Then at the appropriate moment, he shouted out orders to march the course past the Brigadier, and then turn them onto his own position to halt and turn ready for the Wings Presentation.

A week later Steve limped into Coypool reporting for duty with the Air Squadron. He was curtly invited to get into a Sioux and prove to the CO, Major Terence Murphy, that he was fit to fly! That took less than 15 minutes, when he was advised that he would be flying with the CO again that night on a 2 hour Navex, including tactical night landings. And again, the next night. Welcome to the Air Squadron!

March 1974 saw Steve arrive in Malta , for duty with Salerno Flight, which was detached from the Air Squadron, as part of 41 Commando Group. Steve was 2 i/c to a Pongo Captain known as "L squared D", and the other two pilots were Sergeants Ken Blain and Paul Braithwaite. From March to May he flew in Cyprus,Turkey, Greece and Sardinia.

Then HMS Hermes took the Unit across the Atlantic and June was spent in the Canadian forest (see Dits- "The Commandant General´s Lobster"), after which the Unit was re-embarked to sail to New York for some R&R. Steve got permission to organise a mega Cross Country which saw him and the two Sergeants fly two Siouxs for 11 hours. They routed via Montreal for 2 memorable nights and a day off, then another night in Hudson Falls Baseball Ground, and then down the Hudson River to New York. There, some posing in the hover beside the Statue of Liberty caused some delay, and Steve got an almighty bollicking from Flyco for landing on 10 minutes late! The ship was docked in the Liner Terminal, and had gone to Flying Stations especially for Salerno Flight. The Runs Ashore in New York were legendary, and the big screen at the Terminal Gate announced the score from the previous night, eg Muggers 3, Royal Marines 14!!

But the visit was cut short, and Hermes set off in a panic, to rattle across the Atlantic at full speed. The Turks were invading Cyprus! They picked up ammunition as they passed Gibraltar, off-loaded under 18´s as they passed Malta and sailed round in circles for 2 days when they reached Cyprus, until eventually they were told to get off and defend Dhekelia, the Sovereign Base Area. At the end of July, everyone got bored, and went back to Malta on Hermes.

After August in Malta, Steve was detached to command a composite Army Flight, formed solely to support Exercise Pacific. That involved the dodgy practice of putting donkey walloping Pongos in the Malayan Jungle for a few weeks. But it was great flying, and Steve was very happy to be back in range of Bugis Street! That all came to an end in November and December was spent quietly in Malta. L-squared-D had been mis-behaving and was sent home in disgrace, and Rod Helme was welcomed to replace him.

New Years eve saw the Flight in the hands of the crabs, with their Sioux packed in the back of a Belfast trundling back to UK. A week later, eight Royal Marines mustered for the first ever (I think) all RM course run at Wallop. They included the new squadron CO, Ian Baine, but, nevertheless, it was a very banterful course! Two months later they all qualified on Gazelle and 3 BAS was the 3rd UK Aviation Unit to be equipped with that type.

March saw the delivery of 2 Gazelles from Plymouth to Malta by Steve, Derek Blevins and Paul Braithwaite, as recorded in the photo gallery. At the end of April, HMS Bulwark arrived and Salerno Flight set about introducing the Navy to Teeny Weeny Airways not so Teeny new bit of kit, which was faster than a Wessex!!

On St George´s Day Steve and Paul Braithwaite were on Bulwark for Deck Landing Practice. They shut down for lunch, and to practice ground handling on the ship. Whilst this was going on, it had been discovered that Bulwark had a cracked propeller. In those tense days, the Navy took it very seriously if a ship of the line was not fully operational, and she immediately set off to dry dock in Gibraltar, running on a single screw. By the time word of this filtered down to Steve, they were already out of range of Malta! So there ensued a pleasant few days based ashore in the RAF mess, swopping "Joy Rides Round the Rock" for joyous rides of a different nature!

There then followed another season of NATO exercises around the Med to Sicily, Sardinia and Greece. All mixed with good quality time back in Malta. The "Godfather", Sgt Paul Menghini replaced Paul Braithwaite.

Steve left Malta in November 1975, and spent a few days at Wallop learning how to fly Sioux again. Then, in December, he deployed with several Gazelle and Scout of 3 BAS for mountain flying in the Pyrenees. During this period he was tasked to fly to the Gazelle factory in southern France, with the squadron CO, Ian Bain. The new Gazelle fleet was running out of clutches, and 3 BAS had two aircraft u/s. Steve was invited to steal two, and duly walked out of the factory with one under each arm, and the CO following at a distance!

The reward for the pilots was a weekend off in Andorra, and accomodation was arranged at a hotel owned by recently retired RM officer Jeremy Crawford. The party was in the charge of Senior Pilot Peter Cameron, who never fails to remind Steve of the trip. On the morning after the night before, Steve was very unpopular, due to a general lack of sleep. He´d got stacks with Jeremy´s chefess, who turned out to be a bit of a screamer!

At the end of 1975, Steve was in Northern Ireland, where he had asked to be sent for some operational experience before a QHI course. Apparently the AAC was short of officers, and he was posted to Omagh, in command of the 15/19 Hussars Air Troop. Being January, there was plenty of night flying (mostly to provide night sun for ground troops) and plenty of icing! The Sioux could turn into an igloo quite rapidly, but had no windscreen wiper. Like all pilots of the time, Steve learnt to fly out of balance to enable squinting forward through the open side window. Five weeks and 80 hours later he went on leave and a junior scribbler´s course. Next was a QHI course which was at RAF Ternhill, and was the first to be done on Gazelle.

Steve started work at Middle Wallop in October 1976. One of his first students was Sgt Bob Parry RM. He also flew a lot with the other RM instructor, Sgt Chris Brotherton, mostly aimed at getting Chris his instrument rating. Instrument Flying was new to main-stream army flying and by Febuary 1977 Steve had his Green Rating and was an IRE, one of only two at Wallop, so conducting IR tests became a large part of his work. But he was also doing bread and butter instructing of students on the last four months of the course before Wings. One such student during summer of 1977 was RM Lt Chris Nunn.

Another highlight of that summer was the "Sparrowhawks", which was a unique one-year-only display team of eight Gazelles flown by Wallop instructors. Both Chris Brotherton and Steve volunteered, and Steve enjoyed breaking away from the main formation to do the solo display of Gazelle manouevrability. Later that year he became skipper of the Wallop rugby team and one of the two flight commanders in Advanced Rotary.

In January 1978 Steve got his Master Green instrument rating and qualified as an A2 QHI. On April first he left the Corps.

His first civilian job was Schreiner Airways in Iran. It was fabulous and challenging flying, until the revolution started. Several pilots, indeed the majority of expats, left Iran in early 1979. Steve stuck it out for another year, but oil exploration had ceased, and with it the best flying, on seismic and geological surveys. By the end of 1979 the booze supplies had run out so it was time to leave!

Within a few months he was based at Strubby, flying BO105s offshore, with Management Aviation, later Bond. He became part of the Trinity House team flying to Light houses and Light Ships. It could be a very challenging job, and Steve loved the play-hard lifestyle, "on the road", so stayed for 4 years. There were other challenges during the 4 years with Bond, such as conversion onto the AS365C Dauphin, and taking his narrowboat home "John Thomas" to the Norfolk Broads to run a new base at Great Yarmouth. Then there was the civil instrument rating, and another new base at Blackpool. Another change was a 2 month spell in Spain supporting a drilling ship. That was in spring 1982, and on the very last day of the contract at Cadiz, Steve saw the 4 British warships steaming past from Gibraltar, en route to join the rest of the Falklands Task Force in the Azores. The temptation to fly out to them and offer his services was intense, and if he had known there really was going to be war he would have done so. Missing the Falklands was one of the few regrets in his life. He´s likened it to being a regular first team player all season, then missing the cup final.

During 1983, he added SAR winch experience to his CV, whilst based offshore living in the Forties Field. January 1984 saw him re-join Schreiners. They had a new contract in India, with the N-model Dauphin and if Derek Blevins thought delivering the 2 Gazelles from Plymouth to Malta was fun, he´d have loved Steve´s first week! Brand new AS365N from Rotterdam to Bombay, in 7 days and about 40 hours flying! During 18 months on that job Steve spent 4 months in Porbander in the remote north western state of Gujarat, and 8 months in Bombay at Juhu beach. There were also 2 trips via Djibouti to set up an operation in Somalia, living on a special drilling ship. Highlights of that were a descent to 6000 feet in a diving mini-sub, and the crew change flights to and from Djibouti as co-pilot of a venerable Dakota.

July 1985 saw him back in UK, free lancing on Squirrels and Jet Rangers, some of it in the Channel Islands. A bad decision to join Helicopter Hire, proved costly, after they went bust a few months later, but the Hele-Tele round Brands Hatch had been fun! Bond were short of pilots, so he got favourable terms with them as a freelancer during winter 85/86. Then in April 1986, he set up a one man band charter and training operation at Stansted using an Enstrom F-28 and a Gazelle. That was reasonably busy in the summer, but not viable in the winter. After some free-lance work on police operations, Steve was invited to become number 3 pilot in Police Aviation Services. Soon after he joined, number 2 left so he became number 2, and stayed that way for 12 years.

During that period the company expanded steadily, and Steve was responsible for the establishment of several police air support units, and Air Ambulances.

The company was at its peak in 1997, employing a staff of about 150. Of the 80 pilots employed (all ex-military) about 20 were Royal Marines, a source of much satisfaction to Steve. At Farnborough that year, Steve signed a contract for 10 Explorers, thereby saving that excellent helicopter from extinction. At the end of the year the company was sold to Bombardier, and Steve retired less than a year later, aged 49.

During the 1990´s Steve was a member of the AAC TA. Another claim to fame resulted from a life saving landing on a canal towpath, which was featured on the TV series "999". He may also be remembered for the arrest of 3 villains in a stolen car after a protracted chase. They surrendered instantly after the roof of the car was stove in, following contact with the skid of Steve´s helicopter!

He went sailing for 3 years as a liveaboard skipper on a rather tasty 60 foot aluminium ketch ,Kestrel Spirit, mostly in the Greek Islands. In 2002 he went to Galicia, and has been there on a smallholding ever since, dabbling in self sufficiency, and very content living as a peasant. There are those who say he´s gone native!

And he would love to hear from any old hands at kestrelspirit@yahoo.co.uk; even better, go visit for a few days lamp swinging!