I am so pleased to be able to join you this morning to participate in a very special ceremony. Now all the graduates have blessed wings they should be able to rise to astonishing heights of rotary achievement!
So if I may, I just wanted to add my warmest possible congratulations to all those incredibly hard working students who have gone through the last nine months on this Course 115. I suspect there was some nail biting suspense for the perhaps now somewhat relieved instructors!
Perhaps, Ladies and Gentlemen, you could spare a little thought for those who have to deal with students who return, for instance, from the Search and Rescue Training Unit at RAF Valley without their log book and then spend the last three months of the course re-writing it from the start! Or, for that matter, with the student who somehow managed to redefine the number of degrees in a circle while acting as a navigator and asked his instructor, who was flying the aircraft, to turn on to a heading of 364 degrees! That is the sort of thing which could happen to any of us!
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, after all this effort why should England tremble? All I can tell you is that it certainly did when I did my flying training nearly 40 years ago! 40 years ago! That’s what worried me when I was thinking about this before coming down here.
One of the things I was allowed to do was have a little familiarization training on a Gannet Mark III – an airborne early warning aircraft that the navy used to have. The Gannets had contro-rotating propellers and a huge radar bulge underneath. I was allowed, I think, two days flying on this and survived! Interestingly that Gannet is the only one left anywhere and is now being restored by a wonderful bunch of enthusiasts. Thank God for these enthusiasts! Anyway, I flew in this Gannet and afterwards I asked to go and see the ground crew. I went into where they were – there were 30 of them. I said, “Do you really need 30 of you to look after one aircraft? And a small air mechanic at the back piped up and said, “You do if you’re flying it, Sir!”
I then went on and did some commander helicopter flying – it was on the Wessex fives in those days. We did the training at Yeovilton, down in Somerset. Having qualified I then went and joined HMS Hermes, which was then a Commando carrier which ultimately was used during the Falklands war. She was a wonderful old ship. I could never understand why, when we were doing the exercises at sea in her, that all these Royal Marine Commanders queued up to get into my helicopter. The secret was of course they all thought it was far better maintained than anybody else’s!
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, all of you are going on to fly different types of helicopter in different roles but all of you, I suspect, will meet with challenging flying, requiring great concentration, precision and courage. Some of you no doubt will find yourselves in Afghanistan, where the ground troops will put great faith in you. I remember in Canada, on an exercise years ago, flying the Commandos around there. They expect you to actually drop them in the place that they have got marked on the map!
Of course others amongst you will be plucking people from danger – or maybe sheep in distress – not to mention endless ladies with conveniently sprained ankles on awkward mountainsides in various parts of the country!
Whatever the case, you will all be in charge of an amazingly expensive piece of kit which a lot of people won’t want you to break – so I can only suggest that you try to cultivate that “sixth sense” which can so often keep you out of trouble!
Finally, with so many family members and friends here today it is perhaps the ideal occasion to thank all of you for the unwavering support you give to those you love. Because without it our Armed Forces would find their task even more demanding and difficult, believe you me. I know only too well how complicated it can be having a relative or a close friend in the Forces because they are rarely, if ever, around. But today is a day of great pride for all the parents present – not to mention the girlfriends! We all know how hard our sons have worked, in between all those other activities we don’t know about! Like one of them who didn’t know when to give up during a course outing to a go-kart track and managed to beat the former Commanding Officer of 60 Squadron into second place – despite the fact that the Squadron Leader had his own rigged go-cart! No doubt that student will go a very long way!
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we do wish all those successful students who I have had the great pleasure of presenting badges to today every possible good fortune and huge success for the future. We owe you a great debt of gratitude to you for joining this country’s very special Armed Forces. Thank you.