Rob recently featured in The Bugle alongside his father, Derek de Maine, former Head of Art in the Boys' Division - here Rob explains how Bolton School helped him along his chosen career path.
Who was your favourite teacher at School?
After time in the military I've learnt that a Squadron is only ever as good as the Commanding Officer and that the right leadership is everything. With that in mind 'Big Al', or, more properly, Mr Alan Wright, has to be the most noteworthy teacher from my time at the School. I cannot imagine a better Headmaster and I don't know an Old Boy who doesn't think the same. He knew how to hand out a rollicking, as all Headmasters should, but they were few and far between; it was always a fair reprimand and you never resented him for it. Much more frequent were the kind words and the support, even on the occasions I found myself in his office for the wrong reason!
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
After leaving School in 2002 I went onto Lancaster University where I received a BSc in Physics. From there I attended Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) in September 2005. Since leaving BRNC and commencing flying training to the present day, there has always been studying to be done in one subject or another.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
As a helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy I fly the Merlin Mk2 aircraft which specialises in Anti-Submarine Warfare. In a nutshell, the primary purpose of my aircraft is to locate, track and destroy enemy submarines. However, we clearly don't do any of the latter at the moment. The majority of the deployments I have been involved in have been conducting secondary roles such as airborne surveillance or humanitarian Ops which can be very interesting and hugely rewarding.
Progressing to my current role took a long time with a great deal of training along the way. After being accepted to join the Navy as an officer and completing nine months of general naval training at Britannia Royal Naval College, my flying training began.
Over the next four years I flew four different airframes on five squadrons amassing approximately 250 flying hours, 130 simulator hours with at least 300 hours of ground School and plenty of private study. Each sortie is pass/fail and a fail puts you on Air Warnings 1. Fail again and you are escalated to Air Warnings 2 and then 3. Fail again and you are removed from flying training and returned to the general naval service for an alternative career path. To de-escalate your Air Warnings by one grade you must pass all of the remaining sorties in that phase of flying.
Almost five years after joining the Royal Navy I was awarded my pilot wings and joined the front line. Training doesn’t stop there though and I'm still learning and being assessed continuously.
What/who influenced your career choice?
Undoubtedly my choice of career was influenced by my father as a former RAF fast jet pilot. I think all children are molded by their parents and many young boys dream about flying when they grow up. However, having flying in the family (mum was a glider pilot) made me realise that my airborne aspirations could be more than just dreams and were actually attainable.
What/who has been your biggest inspiration?
My parents fostered my flying aspirations from an early age, exposing me to aviation and supporting me in my decision to join the forces.
There are of course other people I have met along the way, instructors or others I have worked for that have stood out amongst the rest.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
The most important skill, during training at least, has got to be perseverance. You have good days and bad days, easy flights and more difficult ones, but you have to pass them all whether you like it or not and second chances are few and far between.
Front line, and particularly in a tactical environment, the ability to communicate clearly, concisely and accurately is crucial as is the ability to assimilate information quickly, allocate tasks around the crew and make real time decisions. In a comfortable boardroom, a team of more intelligent people with an afternoon on their hands would no doubt make better decisions than me and my crew. But as aircrew you make those decisions in a couple of seconds, flying in a shaking helicopter in outside air temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius, whilst trying to listen to two different radio frequencies.
Pretty good hand/eye/foot co-ordination is obviously helpful.
What do you like most about your job?
The best part of my job is simply being in the air. I still get a feeling of childish excitement every time I see the ground/sea/ship shrink away underneath me as I take off.
It can get very stressful at times but now and then the radios go quiet as you're doing the dawn flight over the Gulf of Aden, watching the sunlight shatter into myriad rainbow shards as it bursts through the mist and wispy clouds. That's a feeling and a view to which words can't do justice.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
Juggling a lot of paperwork, writing reports on my subordinates, attending to my secondary duties on the unit, assessing and instructing the skills required to fly in cloud (instrument flying) whilst maintaining my own flying skills could easily fill the 24 hours each day has to offer so, like many jobs, it comes down to prioritization and good management.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
The first time I was sent solo in each of the different airframes was a huge rush and a great achievement. However, my greatest achievement was being awarded my wings at the culmination of my training. Those small, embroidered eagle wings represent half a decade of hard work.
What does a typical 'day in the life' look like in your job?
Forgive the flagrant PR statement, but there isn't really a typical day in my job. You may have small blocks of similar days, but as we move around so much and are constantly presented with new opportunities and challenges, very few periods in my career are alike.
At present I'll get into work for 0745. At some point in the day I'll fly a two-hour sortie which requires about two hours of preparation. I may write reports on some of the twelve people in my division and write various emails to organise the current flying display season’s requirements. I maintain registers for various Squadron responsibilities and also instruct the students in instrument flying topics. Leaving the office around 1800 it's home to see my wife and take the dog for a run.
A slightly more interesting example, however:
Saturday morning, 0800, phone call whilst you're in bed on leave in Bolton. It's your boss: “You have a civvy airline booked for 0600 on Monday from Heathrow. Get back to the base and pack your kit, you're going on an all-expenses-paid cruise on a warship courtesy of Her Majesty.”
Sunday. Back in Cornwall getting kit packed and meet your equally 'fortunate' mates before the four of you set off for London.
Monday. Early start, arriving in Gibraltar before lunch time. Met by a helicopter at Gib airport to transfer us to the ship. Find your cabin, meet the team and attend your briefs. Apparently some chap called Gadaffi is causing a stir, you're off to the Med to fly around just off Libya before going through the Suez to be on standby for Humanitarian Ops.
Average day. Up around 0430 for a briefing accompanied by a bacon butty. Walk out to the aircraft in the dark on deck at 0515 to be off deck by 0545. After your three-hour sortie you land back on the ship and debrief the sortie. Grab a coffee with your mates onboard before finding some workspace (easier said than done on a ship) to catch up on the reports you meant to write at home whilst you were on leave. Lunch is at midday, followed by walking round the hangar, talking to your engineers who you report on and finding out how they are and what the serviceability state of the aircraft is. In the afternoon there will likely be some engineering work on the aircraft which requires a pilot to start the aircraft for a while on deck. Then before dinner a few of us will go to the gym or do circuits on the flight deck which are run by the embarked physical training staff. After a quick shower, dinner and then time to relax or start planning tomorrow's sortie if you're off early again. Now quick, get to bed fast as you're sharing a cabin with two heavy snorers so you need to be asleep before they are!
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
It was obvious that I wasn't a natural academic, contrary to the hopes of my parents! Writing essays, remembering dates and regurgitating mathematical proofs did not come easy to me; needless to say, classroom learning was not something I particularly enjoyed (apart from when I was making paper airplanes out of scrap paper). However, I realised that whilst academic qualifications are undoubtedly important (I would not have got into the Navy without them) they are not enough on their own. Volunteering for Bolton Council, playing rugby on the School team and participating in pretty much every School concert all prepared me for the challenges I've since experienced in the military. These sort of activities improved my confidence and leadership skills, taught me how to work as part of a team and taught me that in order to master anything worth mastering you have to practise, practise, practise.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
If you want it – go and get it.
You will compete for your job against a large number of people – between the air-conditioned careers office and the sweaty, noisy, shaking cockpit, 96% of your peers will fail. At the start of flying training I can almost guarantee you won't be the brightest on your course and you won't just magically take to it. But if you're prepared to work hard when you have to, take it easy the rest of the time and if you really want it – it's great fun. It's what I do for a living so it's clearly not that difficult …