UK SAR pilot achieves 7,000 hours

UK SAR pilot achieves 7,000 hours

1-Sep-2011 Source: Royal Navy

A helicopter pilot based at HMS Gannet in Prestwick – the UK’s busiest helicopter search and rescue unit – has become one of the Royal Navy’s most experienced flyers.

For Lieutenant Commander Roger Stringer (49), who lives in Mauchline near Ayr in Scotland, completed his 7000th flying hour at the controls of a Sea King Mark 5.

Returning from a recent emergency call out, and in the skies above Clyde Coastguard’s offices in Greenock – one of the authorities with which the Royal Navy’s search and rescue (SAR) teams work most closely – Roger mentioned to crew members that he had just passed his 7000th hour.

Commenting on the event, Roger, who is originally from Northampton, said: “It was quite strange to pass the 7000 flying hours mark on a SAR mission just as we passed overhead Clyde Coastguard. It seemed rather fitting as this is a job that I love and it is one in which the coastguard and emergency services come together with the common purpose of saving or aiding life. The camaraderie in SAR is special as it crosses the boundaries between the military and civilian agencies.”

Pilot and Commanding Officer of HMS Gannet, Lieutenant Commander Debdash Bhattacharya, was also on board at the time and said: “7000 flying hours represents a tremendous achievement and it is a milestone that very few aviators will pass in their careers. Roger’s aviation experience is second to none at HMS Gannet and we are very fortunate to have him flying with us. A previous commanding officer of the unit, Gannet is his spiritual home and we’ll have to see if he manages to complete another thousand hours before he leaves the unit next year to retire from the navy.”

Roger was born and educated in Northampton, attending Lyncrest Infants and Chiltern Junior Schools before moving on to Northampton Grammar School for Boys.

It was there that he got involved with the Air Force section of the Combined Cadet Force, and quickly won and completed both gliding and flying scholarships, gaining his private pilot’s licence less than a month after his 18th birthday in 1980.

Roger then moved to Scotland in spring 1982 to work in civil air traffic control at Prestwick, but he soon decided to join the Royal Navy and entered the service in September 1982 as a midshipman.

He commenced flying training with the Fleet Air Arm in February 1983, gaining the coveted naval aviation “Wings” in March 1984.

Specialising in anti-submarine warfare, he graduated from the Operational Conversion Unit in October 1984 and joined the frontline, serving in 814 Naval Air Squadron before joining HMS Gannet and 819 Naval Air Squadron.

Falling in love with the west coast of Scotland, Roger made his home in the local area and he has returned to Gannet several times in his career between sea appointments.

A qualified helicopter instructor, his tours have included acting as the deputy chief instructor of the Defence Helicopter Flying School based in RAF Shawbury. Roger commanded HMS Gannet from 2004-07 before being appointed as Commanding Officer of Naval Flying Standards Flight (Rotary Wing) – a most prestigious appointment.

During Roger’s flying career, he has flown an incredible 18 different types or models of aircraft, amassing a total of 7000 hours of which 2000 were in an instructional capacity.

Roger explained: “To a long-haul commercial pilot, 7000 hours will not sound very much.  But within the military, where the average sortie is around an hour and a half to two hours, it is quite significant – you can see why it has taken more than 28 years to amass this amount of flying time.”

Other notable events in his flying career have included his involvement in rescue of Richard Branson following his balloon crash landing in the Atlantic off Northern Ireland in July 1987.

Roger was also flying SAR from HMS Gannet in December 1988 when the aircraft was called to assist in intelligence gathering and the clean-up and investigation in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

On a lighter note, he had the honour of taking HRH the Prince Andrew airborne on his last day of full-time service in the Royal Navy and he hosted the US Presidential Squadron at HMS Gannet during the G8 Conference in Gleneagles in July 2005.

Roger is married to Carole and they have lived in Mauchline, Ayrshire since 1987. A keen photographer, he and his wife are renovating a small house in France (slowly!).

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