Swordfish pilot hits a century in flying hours

A Royal Navy pilot has achieved 100 hours of flying at the controls of the world’s oldest surviving Fairey Swordfish.

Lieutenant Simon Wilson, a qualified helicopter instructor from 815 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton, achieved the milestone during transit between air displays at Newcastle airport over the weekend.

Records indicate this is the first time since the Second World War that this amount of hours has been achieved on this aircraft type.

The aircraft itself, W5856, first flew on Trafalgar Day, 21 October, in 1941. 

Lt Wilson said, “It is a great privilege to fly such an iconic aircraft and to have achieved 100 hours, something I am very proud of. The aircraft is only allowed to fly for a small number of hours each season and I have been lucky enough to have flown the Swordfish since 2011.”

It is a great privilege to fly such an iconic aircraft and to have achieved 100 hours, something I am very proud of

Lieutenant Simon Wilson, Royal Navy Heritage Flight

Lt Wilson has flown both the Mk I and Mk II Swordfish since 2011, something that he achieves alongside his day job instructing transitioning aircrew on the next generation of Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters. 

He added, “It is a great honour to fly W5856 in particular as she is the only Mk I in existence anywhere in the world. There aren’t even any in museums.

“I hope to be able to fly many more Swordfish hours in the future. There is nothing else quite like her anywhere in the world – quite literally.”

Nicknamed the “stringbag” because the crews felt the Swordfish, like a shopping bag, could carry anything, W5856 was grounded with corrosion in her wing spars in 2003 and her future looked uncertain.

But BAE Systems stepped in and constructed a new set of wings which were delivered to the Royal Navy Historic Flight in 2012. W5856 was restored to full flying condition and saved for the nation by a major grant from the Peter Harrison Heritage Foundation and the aircraft rejoined the display circuit in 2015, painted in the pre-war colours of 810 Squadron embarked in HMS Ark Royal.

At the same time in 2015, the latest generation of multi-role helicopter which Lt Wilson flies as his day job – the Wildcat – stood up at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, seeing the oldest and youngest aircraft flying out of the home of the Fleet Air Arm.

Lt Wilson is about to complete a second milestone in the next few weeks, as he reaches 3,000 military flying hours. 

RNAS Yeovilton – also known as HMS Heron – is one of the Royal Navy’s two principal air stations, and one of the busiest military airfields in the UK. The base is located near Yeovil in Somerset and has more than 70 aircraft operating in frontline squadrons and training units. 

It supports the Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force, the Commando Helicopter Force, and the Army Air Corps Wildcat Aviation Reconnaissance Force. It is also home to the famous vintage aircraft of the Royal Navy Historic Flight.