From hunting real-life pirates in the Arabian Sea to patrolling frigid ice-capped islands of the south Atlantic, one Royal Navy pilot has done more than most.

Over a 35-year career in the navy, Lieutenant Commander Richard Boyes – known as Rick – has also flown operations as far afield as Iraq, Sierra Leone, Falkland Islands and the Persian Gulf.

He is currently serving his third tour with The Flying Tigers, 814 Naval Air Squadron, flying Merlin helicopters at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose at Helston, Cornwall.

And the seasoned pilot, who lives near Falmouth, has now reached a prestigious milestone - having recently clocked 7,000 hours in the air.

Speaking of the formidable achievement, the 53-year-old said, not without a certain amount of understatement: “Yes, it’s quite a big number.”

He added: “As a pilot, you typically do around 200 hours a year. Sometimes on busy years you can do up to 300 hours, so that’s quite a few years’ worth of flying. I think that puts it into perspective.”

Lt Cdr Boyes joined the navy in 1984, straight from secondary school in Manchester. Four thousand of his flying hours were completed in Sea King helicopters, with some time at first on Gazelle aircraft and the rest in the more modern Merlins.

This is The West Country:

A Merlin helicopter from RNAS Culdrose deployed to a Royal Navy frigate, in this case HMS Sutherland

Serving on the frontline, Lt Cdr Boyes and his crew played an important role in chasing down a flotilla of pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2010. His Merlin helicopter was deployed to the frigate HMS St Albans, part of an international taskforce on the lookout for armed men in speedboats preying on passing merchant ships.

“We were on a routine patrol when we found a group of pirates,” he said. “We kept our eyes on them and were able to coordinate the marines to move in and take the group down. That was really satisfying to know they would not be taking any more ships.”

He said another memorable mission was scouting around the mountainous island of South Georgia, deep in the south Atlantic. “We flew around and checked on the old whaling stations,” Lt Cdr Boyes added. “It was one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen.”

His Sea King experience included also two two-year stretches with the much-loved red and grey search and rescue helicopters of 771 Naval Air Squadron.

“That was a very rewarding job,” he said. “Every time you were out, you’d know you were making difference in saving someone’s life. You work as part of a close team and as a pilot, it’s your job to make it possible for the other aircrew to do their work safely. Sometimes you also have to make difficult decisions and say ‘no’ if it’s not safe.

“I remember there was one rescue that stands out for me, it must have been in ‘94 or ‘95. It involved landing at Cheesewring Quarry on Bodmin Moor in a blanket of fog one Saturday morning.

“We’d had a report that a guy had fallen about 80 feet into the quarry. The ambulance crew at the scene weren’t going to be able to get him out. It was a real challenge to get in the aircraft into the quarry - and getting it out again. We took him off to Derriford Hospital.

“Another time, there was an Isles of Scilly job for a lady who had fallen on the cliffs. She came back to visit the squadron to say thanks. That was really good.”

His current squadron, The Flying Tigers, deploy Merlin helicopters to serve on the backs of Royal Naval frigates wherever they are sent around the world.