Master Aircrew Robert “bob” Ruffles has achieved the extremely rare feat of amassing 9000 flying hours whilst operating UK helicopters. Here, he poses in front of a Chinook Helicopter while deployed on Op NEWCOMBE CH47 in Mali.


Master Aircrew Ruffles reached a staggering 9000 flying hours whilst on Operations in Mali. MAcr Ruffles was deployed as a Crewman Instructor with 1310 Flight when he logged his 9000th flying hour.

Passing this landmark was said to be a significant moment of reflection on how lucky he’d been to operate the Chinook during some momentously historic events. From the troubles of Northern Ireland, through the conflicts of the Middle East, to humanitarian relief around the world.

The Master Aircrew passed the career milestone on the 29 May 2021, during an operational sortie as part of the crew carrying out the underslung recovery of a vehicle from near Menaka. On his return from this sortie MAcr Ruffles was greeted by a traditional soaking to celebrate his achievement.

MAcr Ruffles joined the Royal Air Force in 1985, looking for the opportunity to see the world in a job with plenty of variety. He completed his initial helicopter training on the Wessex helicopter at RAF Shawbury before he was posted to the Chinook Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Odiham. Beginning his frontline career with 18 Squadron at RAF Gutersloh, Germany, he was at the forefront of developing the Air Mobile Concept which gave Ruffles the ability to see first-hand how capable the aircraft truly was.

Prior to serving in Mali, MAcr Ruffles has previously deployed on numerous operations over the years, including service in Sierra Leone, where he had the opportunity to assist in stabilising a country and rescue captured British Troops.

Whilst deployed in Afghanistan, during combat operations, he flew over 1300 hours in support of the ground troops.

MAcr Ruffles recalled that the most rewarding element of serving in Afghanistan was the CASEVAC operations and providing assistance to injured troops.

“The Chinooks took a lot of punishment during operations, I flew on sorties that took RPGs, HMG, and small arms fire on several occasions, so it hasn’t all been plain sailing.”

Away from Operations, MAcr Ruffles spent time at RAF Benson as an Instructor on the Wessex (1992 – 1995) and with the Support Helicopter Standards and Evaluation Flight.

In 2002 Ruffles was awarded the MBE for his work on the development of insertion and extraction techniques that improved the deployment of troops from the Chinook during operations. This was followed in 2015 by the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Boeing, the manufacturer of the Chinook helicopter.

The Chinooks are an important part of the French Operations within Mali, with missions covering a range of tasks including large-scale combat troop moves, VIP transport, under-slinging armoured fighting vehicles and deploying Commando formations into preassault forming up points.

Wing Commander Butler, Officer Commanding 1310 Flight said:

“MAcr Ruffles is an inspiration in the world of Chinook flying, he has literally been there and done it for so many years and is always ready to help other aircrew by sharing his vast knowledge and experience. Passing 9000 hrs operational flying is a formidable achievement.”

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