More than 42 years of Air Force service has allowed Warrant Officer Stuart Matthews to tick over nearly seven million kilometres in the air.

Warrant Officer Matthews said he spent most of his career working on RAAF’s Boeing 707 tanker transports. 

“I achieved nearly 7000 flying hours, which is the most flying hours on that type in RAAF service,” Warrant Officer Matthews said.

“I could safely say that I have air-to-air refuelled the most Australian and Coalition aircraft from a RAAF Boeing 707.”

On August 27 Warrant Officer Matthews was awarded the Federation Star and Fifth Clasp to his Defence Long Service Medal, which recognises 40 years of continuous service.

Growing up in Castle Hill, Sydney, Warrant Officer Matthews joined the RAAF as an apprentice fitter at 15 in 1978. 

“I always had an interest in mechanical things so that led me to become an engine fitter,” Warrant Officer Matthews said.

He posted to RAAF Base Richmond in 1980 and initially worked on C-130 Hercules transports, but in 1983 he was offered the chance to work on the Boeing 707. 

For the next 25 years the aircraft played a significant role in Warrant Officer Matthew’s professional and personal life.

I achieved nearly 7000 flying hours, which is the most flying hours on that type in RAAF service.

On missions around the globe, engine fitters like Warrant Officer Matthews accompanied the crew to ensure the aircraft was well maintained.

“It is here I met my girlfriend, now wife, who was a flight steward with No. 33 Squadron,” Warrant Officer Matthews said.

“The fact that she wore a brevet made me apply to become a flight engineer – I guess I wanted one as well.”

In 1986 he was flying on the C-130H Hercules at No. 36 Squadron before being posted to the Boeing 707 at No. 33 Squadron in 1989.

“As a flight engineer, you were not considered for a posting to Boeing 707 until you had a lot of time on either C-130s or P-3s,” Warrant Officer Matthews said. 

“Fortunately for me, the flight engineer section at No. 33 Squadron was top heavy as far as rank went and several of the flight engineers were getting jobs with Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

“I was the first of two flight engineers with the rank of sergeant to get posted to the squadron and it upset a lot of the old guard back then.”

Warrant Officer Matthews ultimately grew to become one of the RAAF’s most experienced flight engineers on the aircraft. 

“As I see it, I am the longest continuously-serving aircrew member of No. 33 Squadron and have probably been posted to the squadron for the longest period -- just over 14 years in total,” he said. 

I have no regrets and still look forward to helping out wherever and whenever I can. 

Flight engineers were responsible for everything from engine performance and fuel management to hydraulic and electrical systems.

From 1989 RAAF modified four Boeing 707 for air-to-air refuelling and flight engineers controlled the refuelling process from the cockpit. 

“Probably the most significant event during my time at No. 33 Squadron was attaining A-Category Flight Engineer status,” Warrant Officer Matthews said.

“I also had the opportunity to fly with three prime ministers, several leaders of the opposition, and Prince Charles.”

Warrant Officer Matthews said he had many memories. 

“The darkest day was the loss of five of my squadron colleagues in the crash of Boeing 707 A20-103 off the coast of RAAF Base East Sale,” Warrant Officer Matthews said.

In June 2008 the RAAF retired the last of its Boeing 707 from service and No. 33 Squadron moved north to RAAF Base Amberley where it would introduce the KC-30A multi-role tanker transport. 

Warrant Officer Matthews remained at RAAF Base Richmond, taking on a simulator fidelity manager role at No. 285 Squadron and then a stint in the C-130 operations planning cell.

“In 2011 I was accepted for a commission as an operations officer but decided instead to take up a position in a civilian company,” he said. 

“I discharged from the permanent Air Force in 2012 and transferred to the reserves where I still assist the C-130 operations cell.

“I have no regrets and still look forward to helping out wherever and whenever I can.”