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Rex Hunt reunited with 1982 RAF pilot

Wednesday, May 29th 2002 - 21:00 UTC
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Former Falkland Islands Governor, Sir Rex Hunt, has been re-united for the first time for 20 years with the Royal Air Force Hercules pilot who flew him back to the Islands after the Argentine surrender in 1982.

He is Squadron Leader Harry Burgoyne who was awarded the Air Force Cross for his service during the Falklands War and was stationed there again in 2001. The RAF arranged the reunion for the 20th anniversary. The two men greeted each other warmly. Twenty years ago they had got to know each other well on the 13-hour flight from Ascension Island to the Falklands. The reunion flight was much shorter and less tense ? only between two RAF Hercules bases in southern England, Lyneham in Wiltshire and Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where Sir Rex Hunt's marathon 1982 flight began to resume British administration of the Falklands.

Sir Rex is an ex-RAF Spitfire pilot as well as a seasoned Hercules passenger having travelled in the aircraft no fewer than thirteen times, on one occasion in his traumatic evacuation from Saigon as one of the last diplomats to leave the South Vietnamese capital before its fall in 1975. He has also taken the controls of a Hercules. So there was much to talk about between two RAF veterans on both flights.Sir Rex said: "It was wonderful to see Harry again. It brought all the memories flooding back. I remember my 1982 flight very well. Thirteen hours in a Hercules is a long time, but Harry was charming".

Long, long flight to the Falklands

Harry Burgoyne, who is now Media Manager for the RAF Benevolent Fund's Royal International Air Tattoo, also has vivid memories of the 1982 flight when Hercules aircraft had to re-fuel in flight twice from three accompanying Victor tanker aircraft to get to the Falklands. It was a difficult and tiring task requiring intense co-operation and delicate flying skill to make contact between the fuelling pipeline and the Hercules fuel probe. RAF pilots did it so often they became expert.

Sir Rex says: "I saw Harry demonstrate this task to perfection. On the flight deck, they gave me earphones so that I could listen to the conversations between ourselves and the tanker. I could sense the increased tension as we eased our way behind the Victor and slowly lessened the gap between us. We took on 3,200 gallons on that first refuelling, losing height from 21,000 to 8,000 feet. A gentle descent was necessary because the Hercules could not fly fast enough straight and level to keep up with the Victor. It was 20 minutes of total concentration by both pilots, and I was full of admiration. Harry Burgoyne actually looked forward to the refuelling ? it broke the monotony of an otherwise boring flight".

Appalling devastation at Stanley

Sir Rex remembers vividly the devastation that appalled him landing at Stanley airport. "There were craters and wrecked aircraft and vehicles everywhere. The one direct hit on the runway (by the historic Vulcan raid) had sliced off half the width. It looked impossible to land on that half-strip of runway but despite the strong Crosswind, we touched down sweetly. As we taxied back, I noticed the port wing went over the Vulcan crater. Here was precious little room for error. My greatest pleasure was to see the Union Jack flying again from the airport flagpole".

Harry was delighted to meet Sir Rex again. He said: "Two RAF pilots together, sat on the flight deck of a Hercules, have a lot to talk about". Harry Burgoyne already had eleven years experience as a Hercules pilot in 1982. He was the first RAF pilot qualified in air-to-air refuelling and captained the first long- range Hercules flight into the Falklands total exclusion zone ? twenty-four hours airborne.

After almost twenty years, he went back to the Falklands for the first time since to take command in August 2001 of 1312 flight at Mount Pleasant airbase.

Harold Briley, London

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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