333 Days in the sky and still going strong
A Warrant Officer Aircrewman from the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton has notched up a staggering aviation achievement that will be difficult to replicate. WO 1 John Sheldon of 848 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) has logged an amazing 8000 Flying Hours, the equivalent of an unbelievable 333 days airborne and he doesn’t intend to hang up his flying boots just yet.
John joined the Royal Navy as an 'Engineering Mechanic Air’ in 1968, working on a variety of Naval aircraft at sea and ashore. But an interest in flying saw him selected for Aircrew Training at the Aircrewman School then at RNAS Portland in Dorset in 1972 and the start of his flying career in Wessex helicopters with 771 NAS. Since then he has flown every type of service helicopter in the UK forces and few more outside of that as well! Not content with flying RN helicopters John also had a spell with the RAF serving as a Master Air Loadmaster on Chinooks until rejoining the Naval Service through the Royal Navy Reserve Air Branch.
Some of the highlights of his remarkable flying career have been with the Junglies squadrons. In particular during the Falklands War in 1982, with 846 NAS. The Sqn embarked on HMS Hermes and HMS Fearless, sailing south at very short notice. Learning to use the new night vision goggle as they went South.
“We had nothing to work on; none of the cockpits were configured for night flying with the goggles. Everything was developed on the journey south; we went on to fly with them on all the Operations over the Falklands”. John recalls. “Another time we were flying near Mount Kent, dropping off ammunition for the Army Guns. I heard over the radio that four Argentinean Jets were in the area. I looked back and saw them coming down in two pairs. They passed over us but we'd started our evasion procedures. As we broke they fired on us, by this stage we'd got to Forward Operational Base Teal and landed on. The pilot, Alf Tupper, and I got out of the aircraft with its General Purpose Machine Gun and started to make a brew, as you do! It was then the pilot noticed a 30 mm cannon had knocked a hole through the main spar of a blade, we were lucky it didn't break clean in two before we landed”.
Having started on the Westland Wessex John now fly’s the Sea King Commando Mk 4, logging nearly 4000 Sea King hours over his time. He’s also flown all the types of Merlin, Chinook, Lynx, Gazelle and many smaller aircraft that have passed through the Ministry of Defences Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, where he worked as both a Royal Navy and RAF Warrant Officer.
“One of my best time as an aircrewman was during the first Gulf War in 1991 with 848 NAS. We were formed at very short notice and I was given the job as Chief Aircrewman and told to find all my aircrewman from around the Fleet. Being a Chief Aircrewman at war was exhilarating and a lot of responsibility, I had a great bunch of aircrewman to work with and saw some incredible things”.
Captain Matt Briers RN, Commanding Officer CHF presented John with a memento of his achievement and added. “The life of a Junglie aircrewman is tremendously demanding. WO Sheldon is an outstanding individual and aircrewman who has flown a large variety of helicopters in terrain ranging from the arctic to the tropical jungle. During this time he has amassed over 8000 hrs of flying, an achievement that is nothing short of remarkable. 848 NAS are now the lucky beneficiaries of his vast experience which he is imparting to the new breed of pilots and aircrewman that are learning their trade around the skies of Somerset.”