THE RAF's oldest full-time flying instructor hung up his helmet and boots for the last time today after 42 years service.

Flight Lieutenant Pete Howlett, 62, of Skelton, near York, made his final landing at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, where he has been a Tucano instructor for the past 13 years.

He joined the RAF in 1965 at the height of the Cold War and began by flying Vulcan bombers. He later transferred to the Canberra for a globe-trotting life as a photo reconnaissance pilot.

The Malta-based Canberras were responsible for airborne reconnaissance duties east of the Greenwich meridian.

Flt Lt Howlett said: "We went to some very interesting places, many of which would now be out of bounds. I was once sent to take photos during the rebellion in Southern Oman. On another occasion I went to Hong Kong to help the authorities smash drug and people-smuggling gangs.

"I have fond memories of overseas trips to the likes of Nairobi but I think the most interesting would have to be Iran.

"It was very different then. We were based in Mashhad in the far north and the Shah was still in charge. I remember everyone being incredibly friendly towards us. It was, of course, an Islamic state, but much less strict in those days."

During his time in Iran, Flt Lt Howlett was asked to take an Iranian photo interpreter flying because he wanted to understand how the RAF took aerial pictures.

"He had to lie in the Canberra's nose for three hours as I flew low-level over the desert," said Flt Lt Howlett.

"I think he was scared out of his wits because he didn't say very much. When we landed, he was various shades of green."

"I don't think he knew what he was letting himself in for - he didn't ask to go flying again."

Flt Lt Howlett, a member of 207 Squadron, has helped many of the present crop of fighter pilots. In 1982, he was awarded the Air Force Cross for "meritorious service to flying training".

During his long career he has logged an incredible 12,600 flying hours - the equivalent of being strapped to an ejector seat for a year-and-a-half without a break.

He said: "I have enjoyed my flying career and would like to think I'm still a good instructor.

"But the time is now right - it would be a shame to go on too long and hear someone say Pete Howlett? Oh yes he was a good pilot once'."