Friday, 24 March 2017
Former pupil Jason Appleton, dropped in, literally, to Bolton School as he paid a flying visit which was enjoyed by pupils from the Nursery to the Sixth Form.
Leaving Bolton School in 1990, he returned to land in his Squirrel helicopter on the sports field having enjoyed 26 years in the RAF which has seen him rise to Station Commander of RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, home to the Defence Helicopter Flying School and the School of Air Operations Control. Once the helicopter rotor blades had stilled, Junior Girls and Junior Boys were out to greet him and his pilot and colleague Flight Lieutenant P J Howard. They were quickly followed by Senior School students and later in the afternoon, Nursery and Infant School children, many of whom enjoyed sitting in the helicopter and chatting with the RAF men.
Over lunch, Jason delivered an absorbing talk to Senior School pupils which recapped his amazing career. Eschewing his early ambition to study Law and become a Barrister, his mind was made up to join the RAF after a schools’ liaison officer visited Bolton School. He received an RAF Sixth Form scholarship and a flying scholarship and whilst he was still a student, he found himself flying solo over the school and taking an aerial photo of the campus! Once flying, he was sold and joined the RAF just six months after leaving school, where he remains, having served 26 years, 2 months and 18 days. He told how he has served in most conflict zones, from his first deployment in 1995, aged 23, to what was Yugoslavia to leading British helicopters in Sarajevo, to landing on HMS Invincible, to an intense period in Northern Ireland from 1997-1999 to six tours in Iraq and to tours to Afghanistan in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He showed photos of a missile that had gone through his helicopter, missed personnel in the back by inches and gone out the other side of the aircraft! He did say that being shot at “concentrates the mind”. He told how the first year in Northern Ireland had been very dangerous but the second year was relatively peaceful after the peace accord was signed; he recalled transporting Tony Blair and the inspirational Mo Mowlam in his helicopter. He also spoke of his pride at having led the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee flypast in 2012 and at having Prince Harry as one of his squadron; he recalled him being a good pilot and soldier.
Between his work in conflict areas, he undertook slightly less exciting desk jobs and continued to receive promotions, moving from teacher to squadron leader and ultimately, in 2015, to Station Commander of RAF Shawbury where he is in charge of 6,000 personnel. He also recalled an intense year of study at Advanced Command and Staff College from 2008-09 and having a Masters Degree from KCL in Defence Studies. He reflected on his career path as giving him some amazing and fun times and a world class training. He also recalled how his schooling at Bolton School had set him off on this path with its focus on academic training and sports and fitness and how he had been taught be inquisitive and to question things. It had also given him friends for life.
You can watch a video of Jason leaving Bolton School by helicopter here (take off is at 7 minutes 50 seconds!).
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