British Airways Jumbo Jet Pilot Joins 16 Squadron at RAF Wittering

Former Jumbo Jet Pilot Chris Jones has returned to the Royal Air Force from British Airways and is a flying instructor with No 16 Squadron at RAF Wittering.

Originally from Llantwit Fardre in Wales, Flight Lieutenant Chris Jones (44) first joined the RAF in 1999, qualifying first as a helicopter pilot and then a Hercules C130 pilot. He flew missions in Iraq during Gulf War II and spent time in Afghanistan.

His tour in Iraq was particularly memorable. He said: “I spent a total of eight months in Iraq and the flying was some of the most challenging, but also some of the most rewarding I’ve ever done. It’s a very different, very focussed environment.”

In 2015 Flight Lieutenant Jones joined British Airways (BA) as a long-haul pilot flying Boeing 747’s to the far corners of the world. He said: “Flying jumbos is awesome, they handle beautifully, and fly huge legs. I went as far west as San-Diego, as far east as Beijing, and as far south as Cape Town.”

The global pandemic’s impact on the travel industry is well known. BA announced the retirement of their entire Boeing 747 fleet in July 2020 after the sharp travel downturn, but it did not mean the end of Chris’ flying career. Knowing that air travel would eventually pick up again, BA arranged a special programme with the RAF and around 40 ex-military pilots who flew with BA up until the pandemic are now on a three-year return-placement with the RAF.

But returning to the Royal Air Force is not simply a matter of putting the uniform back on and turning up for work. Satisfactory completion of an intense two-month refresher course is required before any of the returning pilots can resume their duties. Has it been difficult getting back into the swing of things after five years away from the RAF? He said: “It’s good, not a lot has changed. It was quite comfortable coming back in and getting back to work. Being a flying instructor on 16 Squadron is great, I love teaching and the enthusiasm of the students rubs off on you.”

No 16 Squadron trains student pilots and is one of Britain’s most historic flying units, predating the formation of the Royal Air Force. The Squadron was formed in 1915 as part of the Royal Flying Corps at Saint Omer in northern France; hence its nickname ‘The Saints’.

Squadron Leader Mark Pickles is Officer Commanding 16 Squadron. He said: ”It’s a pleasure to welcome Chris back into the fold. His former military service and experience with BA will be of great value as an instructor. This is a brilliant arrangement that means British Airways don’t have to make so many pilots redundant and the Royal Air Force gets a good number of qualified flying instructors back. It suits both parties very well indeed.”

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