Lieutenant Commander John ‘Ian’ Shepherd

Edited by John Perryman

John Andrew (Ian) Shepherd was born in England in 1947. At the age of three Ian’s family migrated to South Africa where they spent five years living variously in Johannesburg and Durban and a further five years living in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. However, due to an uprising in the neighbouring Belgian Congo after independence in 1960, and a deteriorating security situation in Northern Rhodesia, the Shepherd family decided to return to the UK, settling in Edinburgh, Scotland, the birthplace of Ian’s mother.

Having spent 10 years living in sub-tropical Africa it proved difficult settling down to the cold of Scotland and as much as the Shepherd family enjoyed being close to family, a decision was made to emigrate to Australia in 1962.

In June 1966, at age 19, Ian joined the Royal Australian Navy from Brisbane. He undertook his initial training at HMAS Cerberus before training as a naval airman and serving at HMAS Albatross and in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II). He would later commission as a Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot enjoying a challenging and exciting naval career spanning 23 years.

Ian begins the story.

I think there’s extreme irony in the fact that I originally joined the Navy in 1966 because I had no particular desire to end up on the ground in Vietnam. At age 19 I was eligible for conscription and I figured that as I was a prime target for call-up, I reasoned that I would prefer to go to Vietnam under my terms (offshore and safely tucked away in a metal cocoon) which, in itself, was a fairly naïve premise for joining the Navy. As it turned out, I ended up serving on the ground in Vietnam as an Electrical Mechanic Air Weapons (EMAW) with the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV) and was to have a brush with a bullet that almost ended my career.

The RANHFV Ashore in Vietnam

On 14 July 1967, the Minister for Defence, Mr Allen Fairhall announced that eight RAN helicopter pilots and supporting staff would join a United States (US) Army helicopter unit in South Vietnam to provide support for Allied forces, including the 1st Australian Task Force in Phuoc Tuy province. The RANHFV was to be integrated with the US Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) flying Iroquois helicopters in both the utility (slick) and gun-ship configurations. Over the next four years, four contingents of the RANHFV would successively undertake year-long tours of duty conducting air-mobile combat operations ashore in South Vietnam. As part of the 2nd Contingent of the RANHFV, Ian Shepherd arrived in Vietnam in early October 1968. The helicopter company was at that time based at Camp Blackhorse, five miles south of Xuan Loc, in Long Khanh province and North of the Australian Army Base at Vung Tau.

Ian takes up the story of his service in Vietnam relating a number of events in which he was involved while serving with the RANHFV. These may also be read, in full, in ‘A Bloody Job Well Done’, edited by Rob Ray and Max Speedy.

Members of the 2nd Contingent RANHFV and its unique unofficial patch
Members of the 2nd Contingent RANHFV and its unique unofficial patch

How to jump-start a Helo

“As one might expect in a war zone, our two 12-hour work shifts (6 to 6 day and night) were full-on. I’d only been in country for about three weeks, and had just got to sleep one morning after a very busy night, when my good mate and fellow electrician Adrian Whiteman woke me, asking if I’d go to an outlying field to assist with a helicopter that they couldn’t get started. I was extremely tired, and my reply is not printable, but as Adrian and I were the only qualified electricians on the Flight at the time (our Leading Hand Jock Stevenson was on R and R) I agreed to go. As we were going into a ‘hot zone’ I was invited to act as one of the side gunners on the helo that flew us out. When we landed I could hear a fire-fight taking place less than a mile away - so the impetus to get on with it was certainly there. As I recall, I quickly determined that the High Energy Igniter Unit (HEIU) - required to start the engine - wasn’t getting any power. I changed a couple of relevant components but the Iroquois just wouldn’t start.

I was scratching my head wondering what to do next, when the Crew Chief (every helo carried a Crew Chief who had “ownership” of the aircraft and who acted as gunner, refueller, cleaner etc) said: “pity we can’t jump-start it” - he also added that he thought he’d heard of it being done once before. So I thought “why not!” I cut an appropriate length of wire and jumped up next to the engine, I put one end into the live socket of a heater unit plug and the other end into the HEIU. And while I held onto the wire I asked the pilot to “let her rip” - bingo! We were on our way. From the reaction of the pilot and the Crew Chief you’d have thought that I’d just miraculously turned kerosene into wine. Later that night, I found the smallest of bullet holes hidden in the camouflage paint on the starboard side cabin door pylon; the bullet had gone through the edge of the wire loom and severed the power line to the HEIU.

Electrical Mechanic Air Weapons Ian Shepherd conducting maintenance in one of the 135th AHC 'Hueys'.
Electrical Mechanic Air Weapons Ian Shepherd conducting maintenance in one of the 135th AHC 'Hueys'.

First Rocket Attack

“Our stay at Blackhorse lasted about 6 weeks, before we moved further North to Camp Bearcat. It may seem odd, but my memory of the first rocket attack that we came under at Bearcat is a humorous one. Naval Airman ‘Teddy’ Richards and I were on our way from the Maintenance Area to our accommodation block one night, when the rockets started raining down. We were running to make it to a bunker, but somehow ended up in a shower block. Teddy and I started laughing our heads off at the ridiculousness of sheltering in a temporary shower block - imagine what would’ve happened had a rocket landed close by. But with the rockets falling around us, we decided that we may as well stay put and stay low.”

Shot and Wounded

During the night of 28 February-1 March 1969, Camp Bearcat came under enemy rocket fire and during the attack Ian was shot and wounded in his left arm. The shooting incident raised considerable speculation among the Australians concerning who or where the fire came from, with some convinced it may have been errant internal fire.

Ian recalls the incident from the time the alarm was raised:

I quickly charged off to my hooch to get my flak gear. As I exited the hooch to head for a nearby bunker I heard an extremely loud bang behind me. The most enduring memory following that initial bang, apart from the pain in my left forearm was a warm feeling down my left leg. I have some recollection of being carried out to the bunker and was later medevaced out by chopper to the American base hospital at Bien Hoa.

Following a fairly uncomfortable 48 hours at Bien Hoa, I was taken to the Australian Army Hospital at Vung Tau, and medevac’d back to Australia about 10 days later. One of the doctors at Vung Tua did bring some perspective to the whole affair when he said to me one day: “I’m not diminishing in any way what you’re going through, but had the bullet been another inch or two to the right, your arm would’ve been blown off, and another 10 or 12 inches and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Sobering indeed”.

Ian recovering from a gun shot wound a the Australian Army Hospital, Vung Tau.
Ian recovering from a gun shot wound at the Australian Army Hospital, Vung Tau.

Recovery Back Home

On arriving back in Australia Ian was sent to the Balmoral Naval Hospital at HMAS Penguin to convalesce and to undergo a medical review. Having suffered tendon damage and losing the use of three fingers on his left hand, there was every likelihood of him being discharged medically unfit at the age of just 22. Happily this did not prove to be the case as Ian explains:

“While I was at Balmoral I had the incredibly good fortune to be under the care of a relatively young orthopaedic surgeon, Doctor Colin Selby-Brown, a civilian doctor who worked with the Navy. On one of his visits, not long before my forecast discharge date, he asked me if I’d be interested in him carrying out a tendon transplant that he’d never done before. Despite the fact that I didn’t exactly relish the thought of another operation, and more time spent in hospital, I readily agreed because I had absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The operation and recovery were painful and uncomfortable, but thanks to this marvellous doctor I was eventually certified fit for further naval service.

It goes without saying that Colin Selby-Brown was absolutely pivotal in the successful career(s) that I went on to enjoy. It’s worth mentioning that I caught up with Colin in 2008. Over the years I’d thought that I must contact him one day to thank him - so 39 years later I did! He and his wife came down to Bowral to stay for the weekend of the 60th Anniversary Fleet Air Arm Reunion at HMAS Albatross, and the good doctor and I, along with our wives, headed over to Albatross for the Air Day on the Sunday. He and I were interviewed live by Ian McNamara on ABC Radio (Macca on a Sunday) and it remains a special memory.”

Back to Work

In late 1969, following several months at HMAS Penguin, Ian returned to 723 Squadron. By then he had decided that he would like to become an officer and pilot; Lieutenant Bob Ray, who had served with him in Vietnam, had broached the subject with him and had subsequently recommended him for officer candidate training.

Having left school early in Brisbane in 1964, the first step was for him to undertake a Services General Certificate of Education (SGCE) Course that would equip him with a Victorian Leaving certificate equivalent. Promoted Leading Airman in May 1970 he joined HMAS Leeuwin in July where he completed High School in just 19 weeks.

The course really was nose to the grindstone stuff; but I was determined to take hold of this second chance at life and opportunity, and I came away with results that would hold me in good stead for selection as a pilot.

Promoted Leading Airman, Ian joined HMAS Leeuwin in 1970 to undertake the Services General Certificate of Education course.
Promoted Leading Airman, Ian joined HMAS Leeuwin in 1970 to undertake the Services General Certificate of Education course.

Pilot Training

Ian joined Basic Air training Course (BATC) 2/71 at HMAS Cerberus in June 1971 where he was reacquainted with Lieutenant Bob Ray who was the appointed course officer.

“The circle was completed so-to-speak, in that Lieutenant Ray had planted the idea and got the ball rolling in the first place. In life there are comments made by individuals that really create an impression on you, and to this day I remember something that Bob Ray told us on BATC in relation to integrity, “when you go up for your first solo spinning sortie, you will have a touch of anxiety. And the only person who will know whether you actually spin or not will be you.” I remember those words ringing in my ears as I had two “almost” attempts to select pro-spin controls on the Winjeel, before I finally worked up the courage to put the aircraft out of control…”here we go” said I! I still carry that advice - what we do when we can’t be seen is pivotal to our integrity.”

Ian as a member of BATC 2/71. His course officer and friend, Lieutenant Bob Ray may be seen seated in the front row, 3rd from the left.
Ian as a member of BATC 2/71. His course officer and friend, Lieutenant Bob Ray, may be seen seated in the front row, 3rd from the left.

Following BATC Ian was posted to No. 82 Pilots Course, initially at RAAF Point Cook learning to fly Winjeel trainers before travelling to RAAF Pearce in WA flying Macchi jet trainers.

“If my memory serves me well, we were the first Pilots Course to start with 40 personnel; but as was common back then, we had a 50% drop-out rate, and only 20 graduated.”

As a member of No.82 Pilot Course Ian learnt to fly on Winjeel trainer aircraft before travelling to RAAF Pearce to master Macchi jet trainers.
As a member of No. 82 Pilots Course Ian learnt to fly on Winjeel trainer aircraft before travelling to RAAF Pearce to master Macchi jet trainers.

Midshipman Shepherd was awarded his ‘wings’ from the Governor of Western Australia, Major General Sir Douglas Kendrew, on completion of the course in October 1972, after which he was selected for A4 Skyhawk training.

I felt very privileged to be selected for A4 Skyhawk training straight off Pilot’s Course. I think it’s reasonable to say that the vast majority of pilots dream of becoming a fighter pilot - and I was certainly one of them!

Ian while under training at RAAF Pearce flying Macchi trainers
Ian while under training at RAAF Pearce flying Macchi trainers
At age 25 Ian received his 'wings' from Major General Sir Douglas Kendrew,as a graduate of No.82 Pilots Course.
At age 25 Ian received his 'wings' from Major General Sir Douglas Kendrew, as a graduate of No. 82 Pilots Course.

VC724 Squadron

“I joined 724 Squadron in October 1972, and just loved every aspect of the flying. I started No.9 A4 OFS (Operational Flying School) in June 1973, along with Lieutenant Dave Ramsay and Sub Lieutenants Leigh Costain, Nev French and Andy Sinclair. We were approximately halfway through the course when seniority reared its’ head. A government decision to cut steaming and flying hours meant that the two “junior boys”, Andy and I, were to be sent to sea for a year. We were initially posted to patrol boats in Darwin, which Andy accepted. But I requested a posting to a Sydney based ship, preferably a destroyer or frigate, so that I could get a Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate (BWC) - as opposed to the small-ships ticket that comes with a patrol boat. I was then posted to the training destroyer HMAS Anzac.”

No.9 OFS L-R: Lieutenant D. Ramsay, Sub Lieutenant I. Shepherd, Sub Lieutenant L. Costain, Sub Lieutenant A. Sinclair, Sub Lieutenant N. French
No.9 OFS L-R: Lieutenant D Ramsay, Sub Lieutenant I Shepherd, Sub Lieutenant L Costain, Sub Lieutenant A Sinclair, Sub Lieutenant N French

HMAS Anzac

Although not keen on being taken out of flying so early in his flying career, Ian’s 10 months in Anzac under the command of Commander Marty Salmon, were to prove thoroughly enjoyable and highly productive. Anzac was earmarked to decommission and this was to be her last deployment as Ian recalls:

“To use a good old Aussie expression it was a ripper. We went to Christchurch in January 1974 for the Commonwealth Games, remaining there for the entire games and getting to view many events. During the rest of the year we visited Fiji, Tasmania and several other Australian ports, including Brisbane, Newcastle and Mackay to name a few.

“Being a training ship we conducted plenty of navigation pilotage training in the Whitsunday Islands, as well as in the magnificent scenery of the Hauraki Gulf (North of Auckland,) and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel off the southern coast of Tasmania. All this was under the watchful eye of our navigator, a future Chief of Navy, but then Lieutenant Commander, Don Chalmers.

“Because I was a bit older as a Sub Lieutenant I fairly quickly became one of the ship’s officers, and I just loved the responsibilities. I had the privilege of being the last Ship’s Communication Officer (SCO) - and what a great group of men I had to work with. Obviously my knowledge of communications was somewhat limited, so I relied heavily on their abilities and integrity, and was well rewarded. My time in Anzac finished when she steamed into Sydney Harbour for the last time on 11th August 1974.

Ian with members of HMAS Anzac's communication department, 1974.
Ian with members of HMAS Anzac's communication department, 1974.

Back to VC724 Squadron and Cyclone Tracy

Ian was posted back to 724 Squadron for general flying duties and to prepare for No.10 Skyhawk OFS scheduled to start in January 1975. However, his newly gained BWC saw him recalled from leave on Boxing Day 1974, to fly up to Townsville and join the Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) HMAS Brunei as a “third hand”. Brunei was at that time leading a convoy of three LCHs heading up to Darwin, as part of Operation NAVY HELP DARWIN in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. There Ian found the devastation in Darwin staggering, recalling that “witnessing it first-hand was certainly a unique experience”.

No: 10 OFS L-R: SBLT J.A. Shepherd, SBLT A.B. Sinclair, MIDN K.E. Baddams, MIDN M.K. McCoy.
No: 10 OFS L-R: SBLT JA Shepherd, SBLT AB Sinclair, MIDN KE Baddams, MIDN MK McCoy.
Ian astride Skyhawk 878 at NAS Nowra
Ian astride Skyhawk 878 at NAS Nowra

Returning to NAS Nowra, Ian and Sub Lieutenant Andy Sinclair started Skyhawk OFS again, this time with course mates Midshipmen Mal McCoy and Kim Baddams. They finished in July 1975, and the four of them went straight to VF805 Squadron. Tragically only two weeks after joining the frontline squadron, Mal McCoy was killed in an accident over the Beecroft Range, near Jervis Bay, NSW.

Mal was flying as number 2 to the boss, Lieutenant Commander ‘Dusty’ King, during a Divisional Bombing sortie, when he collided with the boss before flying straight into the ground. I was Duty Officer and was one of the first to receive the heartbreaking news.

In joined VF805 Squadron in July 1975 flying single seat A4G Skyhawks
Ian joined VF805 Squadron in July 1975 flying single seat A4G Skyhawks

VF805 Squadron

From April 1975 through to June 1976 HMAS Melbourne underwent a major refit in Sydney and was unavailable for flying operations. Nevertheless, it proved to be an exhilarating time for Ian as he mastered flying A4s.

“We had a couple of detachments to RAAF Williamtown, and, in a first for the Skyhawks, an entire squadron detachment comprising eight aircraft flew across the Tasman to the RNZAF Skyhawk base at Ohakea, on the North island. The flight itself was just over 1200nm and as the Squadron Navigation Officer I was given the responsibility of planning the trip - Lieutenant Commander King’s instructions were something along the lines of: “I’ll be leading the push, but as my wingman and Nav Officer you’re responsible for getting us there - no pressure!”

“The flight was going to be more than three hours over water, a very long way in a single engine jet, and the plan was for the RAAF to provide Search & Rescue (SAR) and communications support along the route using Hercules and a P2 Neptune. We even had a plan detailing which large ships would be in the area if one of us ran into trouble and needed to ditch. Happily, all went well and we had a great two-week detachment”.

Ian shortly after navigating his way to RNZAF Ohakea NZ in 1976
Ian shortly after navigating his way to RNZAF Ohakea NZ in 1976.
On arrival in New Zealand the 805 Squadron pilots received a warm traditional Maori welcome. Ian can be seen here being greeted with fellow pilot John McCauley.
On arrival in New Zealand the 805 Squadron pilots received a warm traditional Maori welcome. Ian can be seen here being greeted with fellow pilot John McCauley.

Ian’s career received a positive lift in May 1976 when he was granted a Permanent Commission in the RAN and was transferred to the General List.

With HMAS Melbourne’s refit completed in mid-1976, 805 Squadron set about readying itself to re-embark in the aircraft carrier. For Ian this meant that his first carrier deck landing was looming.

Excitement grew among the “first timers” as the day approached for our first look at the deck of HMAS Melbourne. On 14 July I carried out seven “touch and goes” while Melbourne was steaming in Jervis Bay (JB). It’s worth mentioning here, for the uninitiated, that, because of centre-of-gravity limitations which prevented the dual seat T-A4G Skyhawk landing on the Melbourne; the first time a Skyhawk pilot flew to the deck he was on his own with no comforting presence of an instructor in a back seat.

“Two days later I flew out to JB again, and was pleasantly surprised to be given the instruction from “Mother”, as Melbourne was affectionately known, prior to my first approach, of “Ok 885, hook down”. This meant that I was about to carry out my first arrested landing - the heart rate was already up, but I reckon it immediately doubled! It was all over so quickly, and with legs shaking and feeling a bit like jelly, I taxied forward to the catapult and was blasted off. And that was it for the day.”

Skyhawk 885 arresting on board HMAS Melbourne.
An early image capturing of Skyhawk 885 arresting on board HMAS Melbourne. An adage within the Fleet Air Arm is that “a carrier arrest is an act of violence”.

“Our work-up intensity grew, and it was only a couple of weeks later that we were right into night deck landings - now THAT was even more exciting! Our first embarkation took place on the 4 August 1976 and I became Day/Night Deck Qualified on the 19 August.”

With 805 Squadron fully worked up the next 14 months were spent carrying out the entire range of A4 operations. During that time Melbourne and her air group participated in Exercise KANGAROO 2, Exercise RIMPAC ’77, a deployment to the USA to pick up replacement S2 Tracker aircraft from San Diego, and again deploy in 1977 to participate in an almost six month deployment to the UK to take part in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. This was to include participation in the spectacular Spithead Naval Review.

During Melbourne’s time in the UK three Skyhawks and a lone Tracker were disembarked to take part in a variety of public relations events, scheduled to take place over a three week period. Ian was fortunate to be one of those selected to fly off Melbourne and back on again three weeks later, and while there his time was divided between RNAS Yeovilton and Greenham Common.

“I can’t recall what I’d done to deserve such favour! The aircraft were flown to Greenham Common for their biennial air show, and although the Skyhawks and Tracker were originally intended to be a static display, Dave Ramsay did end up flying a simple high speed pass and low speed demo on the two days of the show.”

Members of VF805 squadron, HMAS Melbourne, 1977.
Members of VF805 squadron, HMAS Melbourne, 1977.

A Close Call

The dangers of flying were again highlighted when Melbourne returned to sea.

“As one might expect over any lengthy cruise, or for that matter at any time when aircraft carrier operations are conducted, the risks involved lead to many close calls. During the cruise we lost one Sea King helicopter during night flying off Colombo and one Wessex helicopter when it ditched into the North Atlantic. Happily all of the crews survived.”

Ian while serving with 805 Squadron embarked in HMAS Melbourne
Ian while serving with 805 Squadron embarked in HMAS Melbourne.

“No pilot is immune from these dangers and one incident that occurred to me is worth mentioning, mainly because it involves pride and over-confidence. It proved to be a real: “I learnt about flying from that” moment. It was during the RIMPAC ’77 cruise, 8 March to be exact - I know the date because it’s highlighted in my logbook!

“The Senior Pilot (SP), Barry Daly, and I had been up on a 2 v 2 air combat sortie against F14 Tomcats from the USS Constellation and we’d had a particularly good day. In fact, to put it bluntly, we’d given them a flogging! Actually Barry told me that in the ship-to-ship telephone debrief, the CO of the F14 Squadron, who was one of the pilots concerned, was highly embarrassed by their performance. Don’t know why - some days you win, some days you lose!

“The sea was absolutely dead calm when we returned to the ship for recovery, and the SP’s landing was normal - then it was my turn. Everything was perfectly stable coming down finals, the conditions were perfect, the aircraft was in trim and I was feeling supremely confident of an “OK 3-wire pass” (that’s carrier-pilot speak for landing right on the spot!)

“I touched down right in the wires and then did the unforgivable - instead of selecting full power (that should happen EVERY time you land, and is done in case you miss the wires) - I closed the throttle! The accompanying series of still photos show the result; and basically instead of getting to the edge of the deck at approximately 10’ and flying away, which is what would have happened had I carried out the Standard Operating Procedure, I literally fell off the deck. By then I was at maximum power and maximum angle of attack to try and get out of the mess that I’d got myself into. After I landed I was told that I had a “rooster tail” of water behind me caused by the steep angle of climb and the jet exhaust and that the crash alarm was sounded. Suffice it to say that the next pass, and every single one from then on during my career, was strictly by the book.

“I seem to remember that the CO, Barry Diamond, gave me a boot up the backside for getting myself into that position, followed by a ‘pat on the back’ for recovering the situation. The Boss was actually very calm about it, and I’m guessing he figured that the humiliation (and trauma!) were big enough lessons.

Cine film footage of Ian's 'close call' on 8 March 1977.
Cine film footage of Ian's 'close call' on 8 March 1977.

I remember the Air Engineering Officer (AEO) Chris Chamberlain coming up to me when I pulled into Fly 1 (forward of Melbourne’s island) and throwing his arms around me and saying: “Sheppy I thought we’d lost you!” My reply was something along the lines of: “now be honest Chris, would this have been my reception if I’d left 871 in the drink!” As a footnote one of the photo’s show that I had landed a tad long, although still in the wires, but the hook had skipped over the wire - and THAT’s why SOPs are so important!

Melbourne operating A4s at sea as seen from her rescue destroyer.
Melbourne operating A4s at sea as seen from her rescue destroyer.

Back to VC724 and Flying Instructor’s Course

Following the completion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee voyage, 805 Squadron disembarked on 5 October 1977 and Ian re-joined 724 Squadron at the end of the month. He was then selected for Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI)) training commencing No.69 Flying Instructors Course (FIC) at RAAF East Sale in early January 1978. The course finished at the end of April, proving to be another milestone in Ian’s career.

QFI, IRE and the Ramjets

Ian returned to 724 Squadron in April 1978 as a brand new QFI, initially flying Macchi jet trainers before moving back on to Skyhawks. He was to later qualify as an Instrument Rating Examiner (IRE) on both aircraft. Ian thoroughly enjoyed his new roles as a QFI and IRE, and in 1978 he was selected by the squadron CO, Lieutenant Commander Errol Kavanagh, to join him, the SP, Lieutenant Commander John ‘Hamo’ Hamilton, Dave Ramsay and Andy Sinclair, as a member (Number 2) of the Ramjets aerobatic team flying Skyhawks. An experience that was to prove both rewarding and “fun”.

In August 1979 Ian joined the Melbourne again for a short trip across to New Zealand and back. He was one of a handful of Delmar (target towing) qualified pilots, and his skills were required in NZ. He remained on board for about three weeks, which included a week flying out of RNZAF Whenuapai near Auckland. He was also able to notch up an unscheduled additional seven carrier deck landings - “ever so important to a carrier pilot!”

A 724 Squadron A4 arresting on Melbourne
A 724 Squadron A4 arresting on Melbourne. (Image courtesy John Bartels collection)

Exchange with the USN

In late 1979 Ian considered himself fortunate to be selected as an exchange instructor at NAS Lemoore in central California, flying A7E Corsairs.

“I joined the training Squadron VA122 in February 1980, for what was to prove another marvellous phase of my career. I settled comfortably into the A7E, and really enjoyed learning to fly it. Once my conversion was finished I started as an Initial Conversion Instructor (QFI) and Air Combat Instructor.

“Early in my time at VA122, I was unofficially offered a posting to VA25, a frontline A7 squadron operating from the carrier USS Ranger. I completed Day/Night deck qualification on the USS Lexington off Pensacola in Florida, and I was all ready to go - I’d even had a helmet prepared in VA25 colours! But when things went “official,” the Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet’s staff decided that it wasn’t practical. Their rationale was that as the deployment involved spending up to 100 days at a time in the Indian Ocean, and with Cold War tensions rising due to Soviet adventurism in Afghanistan, they didn’t want to be stuck with a foreign national onboard that they potentially couldn’t use should military action be required. So back to VA122 I went for the next 18 months.”

Shortly afterwards, Ian was invited to take up the position of Training Officer (a Lieutenant Commander’s billet) on VA122 and this was an opportunity he leapt at. There was much that he had to offer, not only to student pilots but instructors as well, and he was given a lot of rein, particularly in the area of Instructor Pilot training. By the time he left VA122 he had a mini QFI’s course up and running.

A VA122 A7E and TA7C Corsair of the type flown by Ian while on exchange with in the US.
A VA122 A7E and TA7C Corsair of the type flown by Ian while on exchange with in the US.
Flying over Alaska while on exchange with VA122.
Flying over Alaska while on exchange with VA122.

Another Close Call

While flying A7s Ian was to experience another close shave. Ian takes up the story: “This time it wasn’t because of anything that I did wrong! I was in a TA7C with a student pilot in the front seat, and my number 2 was an experienced Instructor Pilot in an A7E - let’s call him Rob (not his real name). We were departing Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for NAS Lemoore one morning in December 1981, and it was going to be a formation sortie with the Student Pilot initially leading. The cloud base was overcast at 1200’. Because of A7/TA7 engine differences we couldn’t do a formation take-off, and the brief was that we would accelerate to 300 knots and Rob was to join up in close formation below the cloud. My student was flying and we were in a gentle left turn at 1000’ as Rob came “motoring in” with heaps of overtake. I looked over my left shoulder at him and thought that there’s no way he’s going to slow down in time; and as he whizzed underneath I assumed that he’d carry out the SOP (there’s that expression again) of levelling the wings, slipping underneath to the other side and then gently re-joining.

“I had a mental picture of where I expected to see Rob as I looked over my right shoulder (assuming that he’d carried out the SOP manoeuvre,) however to my surprise (or rather horror) he had tried to recover the situation and was closing on us very quickly. I immediately yelled “I have control” as I snatched the control column and pulled rapidly away from my, by now very close aboard wingman. Fortunately at 300 knots there is some “G” manoeuvring capability which meant that I was able to pull away. By this time Rob had fully appreciated what was going on, and, it’s speculation only, but had he eased off the G immediately and kept coming in the same direction he may have prevented the subsequent collision. But instead he turned away from us, and in so doing hit the underside of our right wing with his left wing. This immediately flipped us upside down, and as I rolled the aircraft back to the right (to make sure that I still had control) we ballooned into the cloud. Meanwhile Rob had “speared off” and was climbing up towards the cloud tops of 6000’; he’d also declared an emergency to Air Traffic Control, and between us we established that we were well and truly climbing out away from each other! We joined up at 10,000’ on top of the cloud, and carried out mutual inspections to assess the damage; Rob’s aircraft appeared to be more damaged than ours, and as Offutt only had one runway I told him that we’d land first. We both carried out slow speed handling checks to determine what approach speed we respectively needed – given that the aerodynamics of our wings had been altered somewhat! We both recovered safely.

“As a Lieutenant Commander, Rob was the senior man, and it fell to him to ring the CO with the news. A maintenance rescue team from the squadron flew out that afternoon, and my aircraft was repaired to the point where I could fly it home the next day - slowly and at 10,000’. However Rob’s aircraft took a few days to repair. From the outset, and to his credit, Rob had accepted full responsibility for the collision, including telling the CO that it could’ve been a lot worse had I not reacted as quickly as I did. This meant that I was returned immediately to flying duties - thanks Rob! - whereas poor old Rob had to wait almost three months to get back into the air; as the slow workings of the Air Accident Safety Board ground on.”

The rest of Ian’s tour was relatively uneventful, but never boring, with plenty of variety in the flying including quite a few hours spent flying around the US as a co-pilot on the Squadron T39 Sabreliner, small business jet.

A T39D Sabreliner was another aircraft that Ian flew while on exchange in the US
A T39D Sabreliner was another aircraft that Ian flew while on exchange in the US.

Ian departed Lemoore for the return trip to Australia in June 1982, having received news of early promotion to Lieutenant Commander and with the offer of a desk job working in Navy Office, Canberra. This coincided with the decommissioning of the RAN’s venerable aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, and the disbanding of VF805 the following month. Under normal circumstances Ian would have returned to Frontline flying, but with that option taken away, and with VC724 having an oversupply of pilot’s he accepted the appointment as Deputy Director of Sailor’s Postings. (DDSP)

After a year as DDSP, and despite still enjoying the camaraderie and challenges of one of the largest and most dynamic Directorates in Navy Office, I really did want to get back flying. However, with fixed-wing soon to cease completely, and with a transfer to helicopters neither practical nor fair and reasonable at my age and seniority; my main career option was to return to sea - and a patrol boat was one suggestion. But given that I had no desire to end my flying career so early, I applied to transfer to the Royal Navy; and in June 1983 set off with my wife for the UK.

The Royal Navy

RNAS Yeovilton

Ian initially resumed flying on Hawker Hunters on the Royal Navy Flying Standards Flight (Fixed Wing) at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. He was to remember the Hunters as being very much a ‘fighter pilot’s aircraft!’ Ian recalled:

There were about 30 Hunters (GA11s and the 2-seat T7s) which were part of the Fleet Requirements (Fleet Support) and Air Direction Unit (FRADU,) flown by ex RAF and RN Fighter Pilots. Their task was Fleet Support, including: radar tracking, Air Direction Training, ship attacks - a great retirement job! And there were three Navy Lieutenant Commanders attached as part of the Standards Flight - responsible for squadron annual flight checks and Instrument Ratings, and of course as a sideline we flew with FRADU. As one of those three Lieutenant Commanders I was used as a QFI and IRE.

The plan was for Ian to get used to the UK flying environment for a few months before taking up the appointment of Senior Naval Officer (SNO) at RAF Chivenor in North Devon, to fly as a QFI and Tactics Instructor. Chivenor was a Tactical Weapons Unit (TWU,) responsible for Fighter lead-in training for the RAF and RN, and had two squadrons - 151 and 63. Because of Ian's “advancing years” there were, at that time, no plans for him to fly the Sea Harrier.

On joining the Royal Navy Ian converted to flying Hawker Hunters from Yeovilton
On joining the Royal Navy Ian converted to flying Hawker Hunters from Yeovilton.

Harrier Training

Early in 1984 an opportunity arose for Ian to convert to the Hawker Siddeley Harrier Vertical & Short Take-off Landing (VSTOL) fighter aircraft. He willingly accepted, joining 233 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) at RAF Wittering in Lincolnshire on Harrier GR3s. Ian recalls his time learning to fly the ‘jump jets’:

“Despite a touch of ‘old dog, new tricks’ I soon got the hang of flying the GR3. I can still remember the thrill of hovering solo for the first time. The flight lasted a total of 5 minutes - literally. We had stacks of engine performance because they only gave us about 2000 lbs of fuel - and at 200 lbs/min in the hover that’s not much! Actually the most difficult thing about going solo was the requirement to drink a yard glass of beer when all the course had gone solo!

“Wittering was three months of fun flying, and included all aspects of VSTOL operations; as well as an introduction to VIFF(ing) in air combat. VIFF means Vectoring in Forward Flight; in other words using the nozzles to slow the aircraft down quickly. However, contrary to popular understanding, the VIFF manoeuvre is actually a ‘last ditch’ one (in other words when you’re about to be shot down.) Because when the nozzles are deployed, while the turn rates are ‘eye-watering,’ there’s also an equally ‘eye-watering’ reduction in airspeed - and in air combat, ‘performance’ (airspeed and altitude over your adversary) is ‘king.’

“Straight after Wittering I joined 899 Squadron at Yeovilton. The early stages of training on the Sea Harrier went well, but I started to struggle when I got to the advanced stages. The Air Defence Radar was all new (the Skyhawk and A7E didn’t have an Air Defence Radar capability) and I considered it a “black art!” I’d already been told that as a General List Lieutenant Commander, I would be a Frontline Senior Pilot (i.e. second-in-charge) within six months. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, the smartest thing to do was to remove myself from course. I just didn’t believe that the standard I was achieving was good enough - certainly not for someone who would soon have an executive position.”

Ian’s decision was deemed a “brave call,” albeit a difficult one, as no one likes to admit that they might just not be good enough. As it transpired, the 100 or so hours that he flew in the Harriers weren’t wasted, as he was given a valuable insight into the standard of Navy pilot he would need to produce when he eventually joined RAF Chivenor in the not too distant future.

In early 1984 Ian learnt to fly the sophisticated GR3 Sea Harrier
In early 1984 Ian learnt to fly the sophisticated FRS1 Sea Harrier.

RN Staff College

To ‘settle’ things down post-Harrier, Ian attended the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich in London for six months which he was to enjoy immensely.

Following successful completion of the Staff Course, he was offered a posting as the Executive Officer in an Amazon Class (Type 21) frigate; this was aimed at enhancing his prospects for promotion. However, towards the end of the Staff Course he visited RAF Chivenor and ‘scrounged’ a back-seat ride in a Hawk. “Suffice it to say that I fell in love with the machine and the whole concept of the Tactical Weapons Unit. I was hooked, and my love of flying was back!”

RAF Chivenor

With thoughts of promotion pushed from his mind Ian joined RAF Chivenor to begin his conversion onto the Hawk on 151 Squadron. He completed training in March 1986 before joining 63 Squadron as the SNO - the very job that he had originally been recruited for, and as the first SNO at Chivenor who had any Harrier experience.

That experience was to bear fruit almost immediately as Ian recalls:

“At that time the TWU policy for RN pilots was that if they passed the course, at any standard, they would join RNAS Yeovilton for Sea Harrier training. As a consequence, the failure rate on 899 Squadron was relatively high and thus expensive. I revamped the course slightly adding some extra trips, and determined that the standard to be achieved was to be the same as that which the RAF applied to their single-seat graduates. The benefits were evident in only a few short months.”

The Hawk proved to be an aircraft that Ian felt very much at home in
The Hawk proved to be an aircraft that Ian felt very much at home in.

“The RAF ran a two-tiered system for graduates: the very best went to the single-seat fighters - Harriers and Jaguars; and the next level went to the two-seat fighters - Phantoms and Tornados. My student failure rate at Chivenor initially went up, however, I was able to demonstrate statistically, by reviewing recent past course data, that if you were a pilot over 30 who had never flown a fast jet, your chance of completion was significantly diminished. There were other reasons (and exceptions) of course. But within months, and as the quality of the candidates improved, the success rate improved markedly; to the point that the failure rate on 899 almost immediately dropped to zero - as it did eventually at Chivenor.

“I absolutely loved the flying on the TWU, two to three sorties a day was the norm, and I refused to let my admin responsibilities as SNO interfere with my flying!

“I was involved in yet another significant incident during a training flight on 11 February 1987; this time involving a student that I was following on a low-level navigation exercise. Approximately eight miles north-east of RNAS Yeovilton the student’s aircraft was struck by a flock of birds. The front canopy disintegrated and the pilot was struck on the side of the head by bird remains and canopy fragments. I recall hearing him over the radio report “bird-strike, pulling up, can’t see” which immediately got my attention! I flew straight over to the student, who by now was in a nose high left climbing turn, and the first thing I had to do was to get him to establish the aircraft in level flight. I could then see that there was blood and feathers all over his helmet visor, and that’s primarily why he couldn’t see. He was also dazed having been hit on the side of the head by a bird.

“Happily I was able to assist him and to direct him to the nearest airfield; but to his credit, his lack of panic, and subsequent actions, were highly commendable and he was recognised accordingly.”

Ian too received praise for:

...reacting swiftly and effectively to a potentially disastrous situation, where a less than positive response could have resulted in an ejection by the student and the loss of a valuable service aircraft. Throughout the emergency Lieutenant Commander Shepherd displayed airmanship of the highest order and provided [the student] with invaluable support during the recovery into Yeovilton.

Ian’s part in proceedings was eloquently reported in the RAF Flight Safety Award that he received.

Another aspect of Ian’s job that he found rewarding, was that the Hawks formed part of the UK Air Defence Network, and they periodically deployed to operational bases in England and Scotland for anything up to a fortnight. There they would exercise with the “big boys” - the Tornados, the Phantoms, and the Jaguars - and occasionally the Sea Harriers.

During Ian’s two years and eight months at Chivenor there were many highlights:

“In 1987 I recall taking 2 aircraft over to Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, ostensibly to meet face-to-face with the leader of the French Aerobatic Team, the Patrouille de France. That all came about because I’d been asked to plan and run the Air Display for Chivenor’s upcoming Air Day; and as we had an ex-Patrouille member, Phillipe Torrens, on exchange at 63 Squadron, I’d asked him if he could swing the Patrouille coming over to Chivenor. Phillipe said that the only way they’d agree would be if we flew over for a briefing - a total scam of course, but you could get away with things like that back then when the purse strings weren’t so tight! Anyway, Phllipe and I and two other instructors had a great weekend - I was even made an “honorary member” of the Team! The Chivenor Air Day later in the year was a roaring success. And in fact we were the only show that the Patrouille did in the UK that year - and we ended up with both the Red Arrows and the Patrouille! Thanks Phillipe!”

A Hawk of the type flown by Ian while serving at RAF Chevenor
A Hawk of the type flown by Ian while serving at RAF Chevenor.

Early in 1987 I felt very privileged to be asked to be Deputy OC (Officer Commanding) 63 Squadron. I was already one of the Flight Commanders, when the OC, Squadron Leader ‘Chunky’ Kenvyn, asked if I’d be willing to be his deputy. It was totally unexpected. The position would normally go to one of the RAF Flight Commanders, but they’d been consulted and were happy about it going to me. I was genuinely honoured and humbled.

My last highlight (and swansong) was to take three aircraft over to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus in March of 1988, for a three-week detachment operating with one of the Phantom squadrons. It was a wonderful three weeks - two weeks of intense combat flying and then a week’s holiday in Cyprus.

Even though I was on a permanent (GL) commission in the RN, and despite being offered a transfer as a Squadron Leader to the RAF; we’d decided that after five years of self-generated overseas “exchange,” we wanted to return home. And so it was that in July 1988 I transferred back to the RAN.

Ian on completion of his last flight as a member of the Royal Navy, 21 June 1988
Ian on completion of his last flight as a member of the Royal Navy, 21 June 1988.

A Return to Australia

As Ian wanted to continue flying he applied in early 1988 to join both the RAN and RAAF. The RAAF offered him the options of flying Macchi trainers at Williamtown on the Fighter lead-in Course, or as a QFI at RAAF Pearce. Both offers were as a Flight Lieutenant - with no guarantee of promotion to Squadron Leader. However the RAN offered him a four-year commission on the Emergency Reserve on the HS 748 Flight, which he was to accept.

Shortly afterwards Qantas began advertising positions for experienced pilots up to the age of 45. Thinking of his long term future, Ian applied and was successful. Considered a one-off employment opportunity, the Navy granted Ian a release in July 1989, after a total of 23 years of fulltime service (18 in the RAN and five in the RN). Ian then transferred to the General Reserve attached to RANTEWSS as a Staff Officer Intelligence.

On returning to Australia and re-joining the RAN Ian briefly flew HS748 EW aircraft from NAS Nowra
On returning to Australia and re-joining the RAN Ian briefly flew HS748 EW aircraft from NAS Nowra.


As a civilian Ian started with Qantas on 31 July 1989 as a member of a course of 20, which included an old friend and fellow naval aviator Lieutenant Commander John Hamilton.

Ian then went on to complete another satisfying 24-year career with the ‘Flying Kangaroo’. He started as a Second Officer on Jumbo Jets, then took promotion onto the 767 - which he then flew for 18 years (the last 11 years as a captain.) Ian’s last flight took place on Saturday 30 March 2013.

“It was a simple Melbourne to Sydney sector, and it had a Navy flavour about it. Because included in the dozen family and friends who joined me on the flight, was another great ex-Skyhawk mate, John McCauley (then an Airbus Captain with Cathay Pacific.) And my “First Officer” was retired Lieutenant Commander, but by then 767 Manager, Captain Mike Galvin. Mike had very kindly flown down to Melbourne that morning to join me - very nice touch Mike, I felt honoured.”

Ian's last flight as a QANTAS Captain, 30 March 2013.
Ian's last flight as a QANTAS Captain, 30 March 2013.

Ian is now retired following a 47-year career in aviation. In assisting with this biography Ian was to reflect how:

Life would’ve been so different had it not been for the marvellous Doctor Colin Selby-Brown and his miraculous surgery on my left arm in 1969.

Today Ian’s life revolves around volunteering at his local church (The Grainery Christian Church) in Newcastle. Known to his friends as ‘Shep’ he is one who still “loves a laugh and a yarn - and a good glass of red!” Although his focus is vastly different to what it used to be in his “wilder” days.

Left: Ian on the day of his retirement from QANTAS. Right: On 18 August 2018 Ian joined other veterans of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra where the then Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, AO, CSC, RAN, presented them with retrospective Unit Citations for Gallantry. It was to prove a very satisfying 'bookend' to Ian's career in aviation.
Left: Ian on the day of his retirement from Qantas. Right: On 18 August 2018, Ian joined other veterans of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra where the then Govenor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, AK, CVO, MC and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, AO, CSC, RAN, presented them with retrospective Unit Citations for Gallantry. It was to prove a very satisfying 'bookend' to Ian's career in aviation.
RANHFV veterans at the AWM on the occasion of being awarded a Unit Citation for Gallantry
RANHFV veterans at the AWM on the occasion of being awarded a Unit Citation for Gallantry.