Hunter man Phil Frawley retires as oldest fighter pilot in the world

PHIL Frawley could never have imagined as a young boy building model aeroplanes and watching The Dam Busters that he would eventually serve almost 50 years in the Royal Australian Air Force and retire as the world’s oldest active fighter pilot.

“Absolutely not,” Squadron Leader Frawley said. “A lot of my instructors would never have believed it either!”

Squadron Leader Frawley, from The Junction, joined the RAAF in January 1969 as an apprentice technician and was an instrument fitter before he was accepted five years later into pilot training.

The father of two and grandfather to four, 66, retires as a fighter instructor with the 76 Squadron, after notching up 45 years of flying, 10,000 hours in the sky, 6000 hours steering fighters and training 499 students.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” he said.

“You know you’ve got a good job when you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to go to work, then can’t wait for the weekend to end so you can get back to work – it’s a real testament to how much it means to you.

“But in some respects retiring is a bit of a relief, particularly for my health: my back and neck are very bad from the g-force, your spine is like a concertina.

“It was just time for me. The fighter tactics were getting beyond me in terms of what I knew and what I was able to teach the students, so I made the decision.

“It was a fantastic career and I look back on it with a great amount of affection – I have absolutely no regrets.

“I loved every minute of it and I can’t imagine having done anything else.”

Squadron Leader Frawley will continue to fly for Cessock scenic and adrenaline flight company Jet Ride, plus serve as the crew chief overseeing maintenance for the Warby Motorsport Group, which is seeking to set a new unlimited world water speed record.

Guinness World Records first listed Squadon Leader Frawley as the globe’s oldest fighter pilot in 2012. A journalist from an internal RAAF magazine planted the seed in his mind that he may hold the title.

“I was lying on the lounge one rainy day, put in an application and they said ‘Yep, you’re it’,” he said.

“I thought, ‘Well how about that’ – it’s something for the grandkids.

“Mind you, you could cover the entry on the page with your thumb, so it’s no big deal.

“I didn’t intend to break any records, I just kept on doing what I loved and wanted to keep flying for as long as I possibly could.”

Squadron Leader Frawley reset the record to 65 years 146 days as of August 1, 2017 and is waiting to hear back about his application to raise the bar again to 66 years and 111 days, his age when he left Williamtown for the last time.

“I’m trying to make it much harder for the next bloke that comes along.”

Squadron Leader Frawley spent five years on the C-130 Hercules and another five on the Mirage, including a tour of Butterworth in Malaysia.

But he spent most of his career passing on his passion for flying to the next generation.

He trained pilots for two years on the CT4A at Point Cook, moved to Williamtown in 1987, trained pilots on the Macchi for a year, trained pilots on the F/A-18 Hornet for five years, spent three years as fighter operations lecturer at the ADF Warfare Training Centre and then returned to training on the Macchi at 76 Squadron, where he became commanding officer.

“I enjoy meeting someone with very little knowledge and experience and teaching them to fly an aeroplane and move on to become fully fledged fighter pilots.

“I get a great amount of satisfaction from teaching kids and it keeps you young at heart.

“To be part of their journey is wonderful.”

He left and transferred to the inactive reserves in 1997 to go to Saudi Arabia, where he worked for the Royal Saudi Air Force under British Aerospace Systems. 

He returned in 2002 and joined the active reserves as an instructor on the Hawk 127 at 76 Squadron.

Squadron Leader Frawley urged anyone interested in joining the RAAF to pursue their dream.

“You have to have discipline and be able to buckle down and give up your social life – if you’re not prepared to do that, you’ll be sadly disappointed.

“Make sure you have a back up plan, because not everyone is successful. 

“But look at the light at the end of the tunnel.

“When a senior officer pins those pilot wings on your chest, there’s no greater feeling – it’s a wonderful thing.”

"You know you’ve got a good job when you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to go to work."