A Royal Air Force Master Aircrew has achieved the extremely rare feat of amassing 9000 flying hours whilst operating RAF helicopters.
Master Aircrew Ruffles passed the career landmark while deployed as a Crewman Instructor with 1310 Flight. This Flight is currently the Chinook detachment that is deployed to provide a heavy lift capability for the French Operation Barkhane counter insurgency mission in West Africa.
Ruffles said: “Passing this landmark has given me the ability to reflect back on how lucky I’ve been operating the Chinook whilst history has unfolded around me. From the troubles of Northern Ireland, through the conflicts of the Middle East, to humanitarian relief around the world.”
The Master Aircrew passed the career milestone on the 29 May 2021, during an operational sortie as part of the crew carrying out the underslung recovery of a vehicle from near Menaka.
On his return from this sortie Master Crew Ruffles was greeted by a traditional soaking to celebrate his achievement. In the past personnel either returning on their final flight or having achieved a personal milestone would be hosed down by a fire engine, now however buckets of water stand in for the fire engine.
Master Aircrew Ruffles joined the Royal Air Force in 1985. Reflecting on joining the RAF he said: “I was looking for the opportunity to see the world in a job with plenty of variety.” He completed his initial helicopter training on the Wessex helicopter at RAF Shawbury, before he was then posted to the Chinook Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Odiham.
Ruffles began his frontline career with 18 Squadron at RAF Gutersloh in Germany, where he was at the forefront of developing the Air Mobile Concept and gave Ruffles the ability to see first-hand how capable the aircraft truly was.
Prior to serving in Mali, Ruffles has previously deployed on numerous operations over the years including service in Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. “In Sierra Leone the opportunity presented itself to assist in stabilising a country and rescue captured British Troops” he said.
Whilst in Afghanistan during combat operations, he flew over 1300 hours in support of the ground troops. Reflecting on his service in Afghanistan, he said: “the most rewarding element of this was the CASEVAC operations we were able to carry out in support of injured troops”. He added: “the Chinooks took a lot of punishment during operations, I flew on sorties that took RPGs, HMG, and small arms fire on several occasions, so it hasn’t all been plain sailing.”
Away from operations, Master Aircrew Ruffles spent time at RAF Benson as an Instructor on the Wessex helicopter from 1992 to 1995. He has also served with the Support Helicopter Standards and Evaluation Flight at RAF Benson.
In 2002 Ruffles was awarded the MBE for his work on the development of insertion and extraction techniques that improved the deployment of troops from the Chinook during operations. This was followed in 2015 by Boeing, the manufacturer of the Chinook helicopter presenting him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The current 1310 Flt that Ruffles is serving with is formed mainly from 27 Sqn personnel and arrived in Mali during January 2021. Since deploying to Mali 1310 Flt have transported over 18,000 soldiers, and flown over 3000 hours. Comparing the operations in Mali with his previous operational service he said: “this theatre has proven to be as demanding as any I have served in with temperatures consistently reaching 45°C plus and the challenges of negotiating frequent dust storms”.
The Chinooks are an important part of the French Operations with missions covering a range of tasks including large-scale combat troop moves, VIP transport, under-slinging armoured fighting vehicles and deploying Commando formations into pre-assault forming up points.
Wing Commander Butler, the Officer Commanding 1310 Flight said: “Ruffles is an inspiration in the world of Chinook flying, he has literally been there and done it for so many years and is always ready to help other aircrew by sharing his vast knowledge and experience. Passing 9000 hrs operational flying is a formidable achievement.”