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Utah Apache helicopter pilot with more than 10,000 flying hours takes final flight

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WEST JORDAN — An Apache helicopter pilot with the Utah National Guard has flown more hours in that craft than anybody in the world, and Friday he took his final flight.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ken Jones, 1st Battalion, 211th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, of the Utah National Guard, is the only pilot in the world to fly more than 10,000 hours in the Apache. Most military pilots retire with 3,000 to 5,000 hours in an aircraft.

“I’ve always loved flying,” he said. “I started off at a young age. I saw Jon Glenn going around the Earth, and I decided I wanted to do that.”

Jones, 60, is retiring from the National Guard after serving for more than 35 years in the military, nearly 24 of those years with the Utah National Guard.

"The continuity that the National Guard has provided me for the last 23 years has allowed me to develop an outstanding AH-64 Apache combat-flying program, which has also allowed me to fly more than 10,000 flight hours in the AH-64," Jones said. "I have enjoyed every minute being in the Apache and the Utah Army National Guard. It has been a truly great opportunity and honor for me to serve my country in this capacity."

Friday, the Apache standardization instructor pilot took his final flight, and his co-pilot was his son, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jared Jones, who is also an Apache pilot with the same unit.

“He’s grown up around it. He’s been really good, now I learn from him,” Ken Jones said of his son. “He’s a great pilot.”

For his last flight, “We went up to the mountains where we practiced our Afghan maneuvers and then went out to the desert,” he said.

They also flew together in Afghanistan. Ken Jones served four combat tours in Afghanistan with more than 2,000 combat-flight hours. When flying in combat, he relied on his training to get the job done.

“Maybe one time, some tracer fire scared me a little bit because it got kind of close,” he said. “But for the most part, you train for it.”

On a couple of occasions, he helped evacuate troops under fire. One of the missions involved a night landing in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan to fly numerous special-operations personnel to safety.

“I’ll never forget those missions,” he said. “They’re memory-makers. You will remember them for the rest of your life.”

His son says in addition to just loving to fly, his father loves to teach.

“He enjoys getting to show the new guys the ropes and make them combat-effective pilots for what we do for our missions,” Jared Jones said.

“You want to pass the information you learned on to the young guys,” Ken Jones said. “And then the young guys pass it to the next guys, and we just keep the circle of learning going.”

The vast experience and knowledge he has was also used as he briefed members of the National Committee on the Future of the Army during its evaluation of the Army Aviation Restructuring Initiative which, if unchanged, will reallocate all Apache helicopters to the active component of the Army.

"Chief (Ken) Jones is a valued member of our organization who has demonstrated his patriotism and dedication every day during his more than 35 years of service," said Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, in a statement. "Men and women like this are the invaluable assets to our nation's defense that will be squandered should the Army Restructuring Initiative take the Apaches from the Guard's formations."

Lt. Col. Ricky Smith, Commander of 1st Battalion, 211th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, said the experience of pilots like Jones is a key reason the Utah National Guard fought to keep its battalion.

"Our strength in the Guard is typically we get guys that come in and they stay here 20, 30, 40 years,” Smith said, and fly more than 2,200 hours in combat. “It’s long hours, a lot of tenacity to make it all happen. I love doing it, and because of that, I just keep pushing.”

Even after retiring, Ken Jones plans to keep flying helicopters. He will be working for a medical services unit operating out of the University of Utah.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com; vvo-duc@deseretnews.com