Farewell to stalwarts Bob and Dave who left their mark on generations of naval aviation

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm Storyline: Fleet Air Arm

It’s farewell to two absolute stalwarts of helicopter aviation in the Royal Navy this month: Dave Smith and Bob Wilton – with more than eight decades’ experience between them.

Their efforts have helped generations of aircrew, be it the training Bob has overseen at Culdrose or Dave’s encyclopaedic design/engineering know-how with the specialist 1710 Naval Air Squadron.

Dave has served in the RN, Royal Navy Reserve and finally civil service, leaving Portsmouth-based 1710 as one of its most distinguished design engineers.

Dave has worked on 27 different aircraft types and marks, served with 11 squadrons, and completed multiple operational tours, notably the first Gulf War One and Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

During that time he’s delivered more than 158 aircraft modifications, which have introduced new capabilities across all Defence rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, past and present.

He’s also led numerous urgent operational tasks, where his creativity and enthusiasm proved key to enabling rapid capability upgrades.

In addition, he’s devoted substantial time sharing his expertise and mentoring both the civilian and military personnel he has worked with.

Colleagues say his impact on military aviation and its people throughout his career has been “beyond remarkable and he should be immensely proud of his career”.

Much of which could also be said of Bob Wilton, an aircraft simulator engineer who has retired after more than three decades helping train helicopter aircrew.

Bob worked for CAE (UK) at the Merlin Training Facility maintaining the pilot and rear-crew Merlin Mk2 helicopter simulators which play a key role in instructing 824 Naval Air Squadron personnel ahead of front-line operations.

He joined the Cornish air base in 1991, working first with rear-crew Sea King helicopter simulators at 810 Naval Air Squadron, before moving over to maintain the Merlin simulators with 824 NAS which replaced the veteran helicopter at the beginning of the 21st Century. 

Mr Wilton was presented with a poster signed by his colleagues and a unique clock – made from a programmable touch-screen device mounted inside an old aircrew console (a common control unit) from a Merlin Mk1 helicopter.

Surrounded by military and civilian staff and admiring his gifts, Mr Wilton said: “Thank you for all this and being a great bunch of people. It’s nice to know that I’ve contributed something to the Fleet Air Arm. That’s super – great. Thank you very much indeed.”

Bob is also well known as a member of HMS Seahawk’s Volunteer Band – conspicuous as a reservist in his RAF uniform – which he will continue to support.