Jeff Niblett first tasted the delights of flying via a Royal Naval Flying Scholarship at the age of 17 which led to the gaining of a PPL in January 1968 at what was then the old Carlisle Crosby airfield. A short service commission with the RM in September 1970 put any further flying experience on hold for a few years during which time he spent a year with 45 Cdo RM including 2 Northern Ireland tours in Belfast and Cold Weather training in Northern Norway. This was followed by a year training recruits at CTCRM and then a year touring the country as part of the Senior Schools Liaison Team. An application for flying training was successful and Jeff joined 239 Army Pilot’s Course at Middle Wallop in July 1974 and passed out in June 1975 together with Sgt Bryant RM. At this time a full career extension was also granted.
Leaving Wallop on the Friday as a Sioux pilot the weekend saw a dash to Cornwall and RNAS Culdrose for a Gazelle conversion course with 705 NAS prior to joining 3BAS for the first time as a Gazelle pilot on B Flt. This short attachment included a 6 week amphibious deployment to the Mediterranean prior to returning to the UK from Malta and starting the Wessex 5 conversion at Yeovilton.
A successful course culminated in the award of the Hallam Trophy as the best pilot completing Commando Operational Flying Training that year. A two year tour with 845 NAS followed including several highlights notably cold weather training, SAS Combat Survival training, amphibious deployments, the Queens Jubilee celebrations and finally 2 flying tours in Northern Ireland. Back to grunting and JDSC before joining 40 Cdo RM and a further Northern Ireland tour in 1979.
Luckily the aviation appointers were smiling and a Scout conversion at Middle Wallop led to an appointment back with 3BAS in Coypool Plymouth as OC Brunei Flight. After almost two and a half rewarding years in post, Jeff was selected for QHI training in late March 1982. Having completed a final winter deployment and his leaving routine, events down South intervened and a quick 24 hour turn around saw the Shawbury course cancelled and rapid preparations made to deploy with the Sqn on what turned out to be Op CORPORATE and subsequently Op SUTTON for the recapture of the Falkland Islands. With great pride, the Flight completed an incredibly demanding operational deployment resulting in a number of awards including a Distinguished Flying Cross for Jeff – the first ever such medal awarded to a RM aviator.
Back in UK Jeff was nominated as the Project Manager for the move of the Sqn from Plymouth to Yeovilton owing to the redevelopment of the Coypool site at Marsh Mills. With the Squadron now firmly re-established in the old Naval Lynx accommodation at RNAS Yeovilton Jeff eventually joined QHI Course 204 at the Central Flying School at Shawbury in January 1983. On completion of the course there followed the mandatory 6 month B1 consolidation at Middle Wallop prior to returning to 3BAS as the Sqn QHI IRI and IRE in Oct 83 – a tour that was to last until June 1985.
Another ground tour beckoned, this time as the SO3 G3 Ex/Air staff officer at HQ Cdo Forces in Plymouth with responsibility for minor unit exercises throughout Europe – a fascinating tour. Further staff training followed with selection for the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich in March 1987. Unfortunately some of the ill-health gremlins resulting from the Falkalnds experience re-surfaced and a lengthy period of re-orientation followed before being selected to attend the USMC Staff College in Quantico, Virginia, USA as the British student for 1988/89.
The aviation world still beckoned and Jeff was appointed to Middle Wallop as the SO2 Tactical Doctrine and RMLO from September 1989 to March 1992. The opportunity to return to active flying was too good to miss and a Sea King Mk 4 conversion followed prior to joining 846 NAS as the Sqn Ops Officer in May 1992. Following an embarked operational deployment to the Adriatic on NATO duties on HMS Ark Royal Jeff returned to Yeovilton as the Ops Officer in the Commando Helicopter Operations and Support Cell, CHOSC. Finally in November 1994 Jeff was appointed to HQRM and FONA as the staff officer responsible for the Service Level Agreement for the double-earmarked attack helicopter programme, the integration of 3BAS into the Fleet Air Arm and also the SNCO pilot programme. Finally the gremlins won the day and Jeff was invalided out in November 1995 having experienced a fantastic variety of flying appointments over many years, some 2,500 hours in the saddle and absolutely no regrets!