A HERCULES navigator who has spent the equivalent of more than a year in the air has flown his last mission.

Sqn Ldr Jim Cunningham, a navigator on RAF Lyneham's elite 47 Squadron flew his final mission last week, having amassed some 10,000 flying hours.

Mr Cunningham has been in the Air Force for 44 years and is due to officially retire in August.

He joined the RAF in 1962 as an apprentice and was an aircraft technician before getting his commission in 1972.

According to fellow crew members, he is one of the most experienced, dedicated and respected navigators on the Hercules fleet.

In his time he has shared his experiences and helped to train many young navigators so to celebrate he was given a surprise champagne party at the station's air terminal.

He said: "This has been very emotional for me. I felt very humbled when I saw all the guys I have been working with for the last five years waiting to greet me.

"But I know my wife will be pleased my time with the RAF has come to an end.

"I will finally be able to get on with the DIY jobs I have been promising to do in the house."

As well as taking to the Wiltshire skies, he had managed to keep up his interest in sports and represents the RAF in squash, swimming and water polo, apparently putting many of his younger counter parts to shame.

Wg Cdr Simon Brailsford, the acting station commander of RAF Lyneham said: "Sqn Ldr Cunningham has been a pivotal figure in the success of Lyneham's operations for the last 30 years.

"His dedication and loyalty to the service has been very inspiring to all those at Lyneham and we wish him all the best on his retirement."

RAF Lyneham's Hercules transport planes and their aircrews are busier than ever.

Last week, the last of four Hercules aircraft from the base's 70 Squadron left for Kandahar in Afghanistan as part of the increased British presence in the war-torn country.

Other crews are flying from Basra Air Station in Southern Iraq supporting the coalition forces in that country.