This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the mighty Chinook in RAF service but, serendipitously, Sqn Ldr Bob Hylands, currently serving at RAF Odiham, is also raising a glass to 40 years in blue.
Sqn Ldr Hylands, XO Engineering & Logistics Wing, will be sharing his 40-year celebrations with the iconic and much-loved Chinook helicopter. Drawing comparisons, both have a wealth of experiences ranging from the Cold War era in Germany to the ‘post-HERRICK’ return to contingency warfighting.
Bob, originally from Sussex but now living in Somerset, joined the Royal Air Force on 2 January 1980 for recruit training at RAF Swinderby followed by technical training at RAF Halton to be an airframe technician. His early career saw him deploy from RAF Wittering to the Falklands War in 1982 whilst serving on a Harrier squadron; although not with the Chinook at the time, both he and the famous workhorse made their operational debut in the South Atlantic. Rising to the rank of chief technician, Bob had the privilege to work on many of the RAF’s most iconic aircraft, including the Harrier in locations as far-flung as Belize and Search & Rescue Wessex helicopter at RAF Finningley; he also served in Germany, based at the now historic RAF Brüggen as part of a mobile team carrying out major structural repairs and modifications on a variety of aircraft including Phantom, Tornado, Puma, Chinook and Andover. The Chinook visited the former RAF Brüggen in 2018 during a tour of RAF Germany bases as part of the RAF100 celebrations. Speaking of his personal experience, Bob said:
My interest in the Royal Air Force began when I joined the Combined Cadet Force at school in 1974, aged 13. I am still enjoying a long, varied and successful career that has given me a host of great opportunities. Although it has involved a lot of hard work over the years, I have been especially fortunate to be able to combine academic studies with operational commitments.
First posted to RAF Odiham in 1991, Bob worked on Chinook as a senior non-commissioned officer throughout the decade, completing a BSc(Hons) degree in Mechanical Engineering. Commissioning into the Engineer Branch in 2000, he went on to receive the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Prize for Academic Achievement on Engineer Specialist Training. A keen academic, he has since gained an MSc in Systems Engineering for Defence Capability and has achieved Chartered Engineer status.
Since commissioning, he has served in armament and general engineering roles at RAF Coningsby, on a Merlin helicopter squadron at RAF Benson, and at both RNAS Yeovilton and RNAS Culdrose in support of Merlin. He has also held engineering staff appointments at Yeovil and Bristol, worked at Joint Helicopter Command in Salisbury and Andover, enjoyed a Loan Service appointment with the Royal Danish Air Force in Copenhagen, and relished a 12-month accompanied tour in the Falklands.
Mirroring the operational diversity of the Chinook over the years, Sqn Ldr Hylands has completed tours in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and the Balkans. Having returned to RAF Odiham in mid-2019, Bob reflected on his career and the happy coincidence of the combined 40th anniversary:
I am delighted to be serving at RAF Odiham again after an absence of some 20 years since commissioning from here, and privileged to be associated with the Chinook again as we celebrate our 40 years of Royal Air Force service together. This will be a very special year, which I look forward to immensely, and I feel proud to be part of such an exceptional Force.
The significant milestone of the Chinook in RAF service will be marked throughout 2020 by a number of events happening on the Station as well as across the RAF to commemorate the 40th anniversary.