The Army Air Corps (AAC) is a component of the British Army, first formed in 1942 during the Second World War by grouping the various airborne units of the British Army. Today, there are eight regiments (seven Regular Army and one Reserve) of the AAC as well as four Independent Flights and two Independent Squadrons deployed in support of British Army operations around the world. Regiments and flights are located in the United Kingdom, Brunei, Canada, and Germany. Some AAC squadrons provide the air assault elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade through Joint Helicopter Command.
|Army Air Corps|
|Role||Battlefield support, reconnaissance|
Approx. 200 aircraft
|Garrison/HQ||AAC Middle Wallop|
|March||Quick: Recce Flight|
Slow: Thieving Magpie
|Battle honours||Falkland Islands 1982|
Wadi al-Batin, Gulf 1991
Basra, Iraq 2003
|Colonel Commandant||Lieutenant-General Nick Borton DSO MBE|
|Tactical Recognition Flash|
Apache AH-64E V6
AS365N3 Dauphin II
The British Army first took to the sky during the 19th century with the use of observation balloons. In 1911 the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers was the first heavier-than-air British military aviation unit. The following year, the battalion was expanded into the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps which saw action throughout most of the First World War until 1 April 1918, when it was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force. Between the wars, the army used RAF co-operation squadrons. At the beginning of the Second World War, Royal Artillery officers, with the assistance of RAF technicians, flew Auster observation aircraft under RAF-owned Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadrons. Twelve squadrons were raised, three of which belonged to the RCAF and each performed vital duties in many theatres.
In 1942, Winston Churchill announced the establishment of a new branch of army aviation, the Army Air Corps. The corps initially comprised the Glider Pilot Regiment and the Parachute Battalions (subsequently the Parachute Regiment), Air Landing Regiments, and the Air Observation Post Squadrons. In March 1944, the SAS Regiment was added to the corps.
One of their most successful exploits during the war was the capture of the Caen canal and Orne river bridges by coup de main, which occurred on 6 June 1944, prior to the Normandy landings. Once the three gliders landed, some roughly which incurred casualties, the pilots joined the glider-borne troops (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry) to act as infantry. The bridge was taken within ten minutes of the battle commencing and the men withstood numerous attempts by the Germans to re-capture the location. They were soon reinforced and relieved by soldiers from the 1 Special Service Brigade (Lord Lovat). The AAC was disbanded in 1949, with the SAS regaining independent status, while the Parachute Regiment and Glider Pilot Regiment came under the umbrella of the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps.
In 1957 the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps was split, with the Parachute Regiment becoming an independent formation, while the Glider Pilot Regiment was merged with the Air Observation Squadrons of the Royal Artillery into a new unit, the Army Air Corps.
In 1958 the Saunders-Roe Skeeter 7 was introduced as the AAC's first helicopter, it was replaced by the Aérospatiale Alouette II and Westland Scout AH.1 during the early 1960s. The de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver AL.1 was introduced during the 1960s along with the Agusta/Westland Sioux AH.1 in 1964.
From 1970, nearly every army brigade had at least one Aviation Squadron that usually numbered twelve aircraft. The main rotor aircraft during the 1970s were the Westland Scout and Bell Sioux general purpose helicopters. The Sioux was replaced from 1973 by the Westland Gazelle used for Airborne reconnaissance; initially unarmed, they were converted to carry 68mm SNEB rocket pods in 1982, during the Falklands War. The Scout was replaced from 1978 by the Westland Lynx, which was capable of carrying additional firepower in the form of door gunners.
Basic rotary flying training was carried out on the Sioux in the 1970s, on the Gazelle in the 1980s and 1990s, and is currently conducted on the Eurocopter H145 through the Defence Helicopter Flying School.
Fixed-wing types in AAC service have included the Auster AOP.6 and AOP.9 and DHC-2 Beaver AL.1 in observation and liaison roles. In 1989, the AAC commenced operating a number of Britten-Norman Islander aircraft for surveillance and light transport duties. The corps operated the DHC-1 Chipmunk T.10 in a training role until its replacement by the Slingsby T67 Firefly in the 1990s. The Firefly was replaced by the Grob Tutor in 2010.
During the Cold War the majority of Army Air Corps units were based in Germany and part of the British Army of the Rhine. At the beginning of 1989 the Army Air Corps structure was as follows:
A further boost in the Army Air Corps' capability came in the form of the Westland Apache AH.1 attack helicopter. In 2006, British Apaches deployed to Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force. In 2004, Britten-Norman Defender fixed wing aircraft were purchased for Afghanistan and Iraq.
In April 2019, 651 Squadron personnel and aircraft, the Islander and Defender, were transferred from 5 Regiment to No. 1 Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing Royal Air Force. 651 Squadron continued to operate the aircraft until they were retired from service on 30 June 2021.
The Army Air Corps adopted their first Corps Mascot – Zephyr, a bald eagle – in October 2011.
The training of future Army Air Corps aircrew is delivered by the joint service UK Military Flying Training System. Elementary Flying Training was delivered at RAF Barkston Heath with 674 Squadron AAC, up until the Squadron’s standing down in April 2021.
Training Units, AAC Middle Wallop
The strength of the Army Air Corps is about 2,000 Regular personnel, of which 500 are officers. However, the AAC draws an additional 2,600 personnel from the Royal Logistic Corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Adjutant General Corps. Therefore, total related Army Air Corps personnel is around 4,600.
Since 2019, the AAC solely operates rotary-wing aircraft in the operational environment. The AAC uses the same designation system for aircraft as the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. The sole fixed-wing trainer is the Grob Tutor, used for Army Flying Grading.
Today AAC aviators fly five types of helicopter, and within each type there are usually several marks/variants which carry out different roles. Pilots train with No. 1 Flying Training School at RAF Shawbury. The School is a tri-Service organisation consisting of civilian and military instructors that take the student from basic flying through to more advanced flying such as instrument flying, navigation, formation flying and captaincy. In service aircraft include: the Bell 212HP AH1, the Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin II, the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno, the Westland Gazelle AH1, the Westland Wildcat AH.1 and the AgustaWestland Apache AH1 which is being replaced by the Boeing AH-64E Version 6 Apache.
Below is the current structure of the Army Air Corps as of 27 October 2021:
Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing
The Army Air Corps is classed, in UK military parlance, as a "Combat Arm". It, therefore, carries its own guidon and is awarded battle honours. The honours awarded to the AAC are: