One of the toughest sells of the new Top Gun movie is to digest the mere possibility that a 1986-era F-14 jock would still be in uniform and on flying status in 2022– as an O-6.
But wait, the British have a Sea King pilot who went down to the Falklands in 1982 on the “Harrier carrier” HMS Invincible who is still clocking in for work.
LCDR (yes, LDCR) Phil Thornton was the youngest pilot during the Falklands conflict and continues to serve in the Royal Navy, 40 years since facing danger in the South Atlantic.
Sailing with No. 820 Squadron, Thornton spent the war on a mix of anti-submarine sorties, logistics missions, scouting for surface contacts, and acting as a decoy when needed for possible incoming Argentine missiles.
One C-SAR mission, to look for a missing Sea Harrier pilot with no top cover, brought him just off-shore of the area where said Harrier had just been knocked down. Acting in conjunction with another ‘King, his job was to draw off SAMs.
He said: “I climbed to 4,000 feet and started to release my eight flares in a line about three miles apart, all the time looking towards land for the tell-tale indications of a missile launch. It was very nerve-wracking.
“On reflection, after the war, I realized that we had been called forward early for this mission because we were all young, single men with little or no commitments.”
Of the deaths, 255 British military personnel killed in the Falklands across ten weeks of 1982, 86 were sailors.
Thornton continues to serve the Royal Navy, working in the Flight Safety Centre at RNAS Yeovilton.