Aviator retires after 45 years service
One of the longest serving Aviators in the Royal Air Force is retiring after 45 years of service.
Squadron Leader Neil Hawthorn (64) joined the RAF as an aircraft propulsion fitter in the engineering trade in August 1977, aged 19.
Over the next 15 years he worked his way up to the rank of Chief Technician before commissioning in 1996 aged 38 as an engineering officer.
Currently working at Central Training School, (CTS) based at RAF Halton, Neil is responsible for running the team that continuously develops the roles of ground engineering and cyber professions, to ensure that the training provided remains up to date with new functions, equipment and technology.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my career in the RAF and the opportunities that it has offered me, although there have been challenging times,” explains Neil who has served abroad for much of his career including in Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded.
“We watched them come across the border in their tanks from the roof of our flat, we had to hide quickly, fortunately, most wives and children were flown out of the country, but some 33 personnel and their families were captured and used as human shields before later being released. Three of us spent 145 days in hiding before receiving the ‘all clear’ to emerge.”
During that time Neil and his colleagues were passing intelligence to local resistance fighters, a service for which he received the Gulf War Campaign Medal with a rare clasp to acknowledge his unique role in the conflict.
In total Neil, accompanied by his wife Sheila, has served on five overseas tours. This included Akrotiri in in 1981 where he met his wife Sheila who was in air traffic control.
She later accompanied him to Germany where he embedded with the Luftwaffe on Tornados as a junior officer between 2002 and 2006. “This was definitely my favourite tour,” says Neil. I absolutely loved working with the Germans. The RAF paid me to learn a second language.”
He later served at Pax River in the US, whereas Acting Wing Commander, he was the UK lead for the 4-Nation Harrier Joint Programme between 2010 and 2012. During this time, he undertook the role of programme manager coordinating the transfer of the entire fleet to the US Marine Corps. A task for which he received the Chief of Defence Material’s Team Commendation.
He has also served in Saudi Arabia for seven and a half years as the RAF Engineering Liaison Officer in HQ Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), reporting directly to a RSAF Brigadier.
Neil’s career has been an inspiration to many who have served alongside him.
“A phenomenal career, it is rare to see such lengthy and distinguished service,” says Wing Commander Phil Poole, Officer in Command of Requirements Analysis Wing at CTS. “I have thoroughly enjoyed Neil’s company and wise counsel”.
Group Captain Dave Melmoth, Commandant CTS said:
“As we approach the festive period, it’s an important time to reflect on our past and future. This Christmas, Sqn Ldr Neil Hawthorn finishes his incredible career and departs from the Central Training School, 22 Gp after over 45 years of Regular RAF Service as a professional Aircraft Engineer. His contribution and commitment have been staggering and our Service is in a great place to ensure effective and efficient training for the #NGAF as a result of his efforts.