High-flying Old Boy lands back at College Assembly

26 Mar 2024

One of Christ’s College most remarkable Old Boys has shared his journey – spanning his time as King Charles’ flying instructor, Aide-de-Camp to Queen Elizabeth II, the Service Adviser at Downing Street, and a RAF Station Commander – at a recent Assembly.

Outlining his post-College service career – including flying during the Cold War – to a rapt student audience, Group Captain Philip Pinney CVO RAF (retired) (6200) has stunned the boys with his achievements while also expressing his gratitude for his time at College.

Educated at Waihi School (1949–52) and Christ’s College (1953–57), Philip headed to England and the RAF after leaving school.

He had two operational flying tours in the low-level strike/attack role during the Cold War. The first was on a Canberra Squadron in RAF Germany.

He recalls that at only 21 “I was on alert as captain of an armed nuclear bomber, ready to launch within 15 minutes to cross the Warsaw Pact border and hit a preplanned target”.

When not on alert, Philip flew the Canberra on more conventional roles throughout Western Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. He later became a flying instructor at Cranwell and the Central Flying School before being selected to teach The Prince of Wales – now King Charles III – to fly. Philip was HRH’s personal flying instructor from 1968–1970.

However, the pinnacle of Philip’s flying career was his second operational tour. He commanded 208 Squadron flying Buccaneer fighter-bombers, based in England, and assigned to fight in Arctic Norway. They became the first RAF fast jet squadron to deploy to North America and the first foreign squadron to take part in the Red Flag air combat training exercises in Nevada and Maple Flag exercise in Alberta.

He later became Service Adviser in the Cabinet Office in Downing Street under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1984–86). On promotion to Group Captain, Philip returned to RAF Benson from 1987–1989 as Station Commander, Deputy Captain of The Queen's Flight, and Aide-de-Camp to HM The Queen.

After hosting HM Queen Elizabeth when she presented Colours to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, Philip became a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).

“My final tour back in Whitehall was as a nuclear guru,” he recalls. “From November 1989 – the week the Berlin Wall came down – I worked with Americans, French, Germans and, by proxy, Russians, paving the way for the 1990s Arms Treaties that reduced the number of nuclear delivery vehicles and weapons East and West.”

He firmly believes that “Christ’s College gave me the broad background and depth of education needed to succeed”.

Watch Philip’s speech to the boys at Assembly here.