Apache helicopter pilot at Wattisham clocks up more than 7,000 hours in the cockpit
PUBLISHED: 19:00 18 January 2016 | UPDATED: 13:22 19 January 2016
A Suffolk-based Army Air Corps Apache pilot has clocked up more than 7,000 hours in the air after almost 30 years of military flying.
Major Chris Hearn MBE was given a rousing reception by colleagues from the Attack Helicopter (AH) Force when he touched down at Wattisham Flying Station on Wednesday.
The 54-year-old’s current role is as the AH Force’s Senior Flying Instructor, responsible for maintaining the flying standards for operational Apache crews.
He said: “I was out for a refresher flight with another pilot, it was a beautiful day and I was concentrating on my flying when he suddenly said congratulations on your 7,000 hours. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my flying career and it was great to have so many colleagues turn out to mark the occasion.”
Maj Hearn grew up in Exeter and joined the Army in 1979, having left Heles School (now St Peter’s Church of England Aided School) with few qualifications. He initially served as a gunner in the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment before applying for pilot training in 1987 as a lance corporal.
Maj Hearn trained as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor in 1990 and is now one of only two pilots to hold the A1 category, the highest instructional qualification in the AAC. He was commissioned as an officer in 2000 and awarded an MBE in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to Army aviation.
Over the years he has flown 2,500 hours in Gazelle, 1,000 hours in Lynx, 1,000 hours in Squirrel and 2,500 hours in Apache and served on operations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Libya.
“I loved the Gazelle because it’s so agile, fun to fly and my first helicopter, but the Apache is the best aircraft,” he said. “It’s not pretty, but it’s designed to be a fighting platform and there’s nothing better in its role.
“The aircraft’s played a big part in my life, as I was part of the team that went over to the USA to start the process of bringing it into service in 1999, I helped write the manual and have flown it on four operational tours.”
The father of four admits to “pinching myself every now and again” about the career he has had. “I’ve had such an interesting time in the Army after starting out with no real qualifications to speak of,” he said.
“I’m humbled by the opportunities that have been given to me, but I’ve had to work hard to make the most of them.”
Lieutenant Colonel Justin Stein, AH Force Chief of Staff, said: “On behalf of the AH Force I would like to congratulate Major Hearn on reaching the significant milestone of 7,000 flying hours, making him one of our most experienced pilots.
“He has instructed every single Apache pilot and his skills, knowledge and example continue to bring on the next generation of pilots and instructors.”