Army Air Corps (United Kingdom)

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Army Air Corps
File:Army Air Corps logo.jpg
Cap Badge of the Army Air Corps
Active 1942–1949
1957 – present
Country United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Army aviation
Role Battlefield support, reconnaissance
Size 2,000 personnel
Approx. 200 aircraft[1]
Garrison/HQ 1 Regiment: Yeovilton
2 Regiment: Middle Wallop
3 Regiment: Wattisham
4 Regiment: Wattisham
5 Regiment: Aldergrove
6 Regiment: Army Reserve
7 Regiment: Middle Wallop
9 Regiment: Dishforth
March Quick: Recce Flight
Slow: Thievish Magpie
Battle honours Falkland Islands 1982
Wadi al Batin, Gulf 1991
Al-Basrah, Iraq 2003
Colonel-in-Chief HRH The Prince of Wales
Colonel of
the Regiment
General The Rt Hon. The Lord Dannatt KCB CBE MC
Tactical Recognition Flash AAC TRF.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack Apache AH1
Patrol Lynx AH7/AH9A
Reconnaissance Gazelle AH1
Islander AL1
Wildcat AH1
Trainer Eurocopter Squirrel AS350BB
Tutor T1
Transport Bell 212HP
Lynx AH7/AH9A
AS365N3 Dauphin II
Islander AL1

The Army Air Corps is a component of the British Army, first formed in 1942. There are eight regiments (7 Regular Army and 1 Reserve) of the AAC as well as four Independent Flights and two Independent Squadrons deployed in support of British Army operations across the world. They are located in Britain, Brunei, Canada, and Germany. The AAC provides the offensive air elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade through Joint Helicopter Command.


The first Army Air Corps

The British Army first took to the sky during the 19th century with the use of observation balloons.[2] In 1911 the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers was the first heavier-than-air British military aviation unit.[3] 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.[4]

Between the wars, the Army used RAF co-operation squadrons,[5] though a true army presence did not occur until the Second World War.

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 such squadrons were raised[6][7][8] —three of which belonged to the RCAF— and each performed vital duties in a wide array of missions in many theatres.

Early in the war, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced the establishment of a new branch of army aviation, the Army Air Corps, formed in 1942. The corps initially comprised the Glider Pilot Regiment and the Parachute Battalions (subsequently the Parachute Regiment), and the Air Observation Post Squadrons. In 1944, the SAS Regiment was added to the Corps.

One of their most successful exploits during the war was Operation Deadstick the attack on Pegasus Bridge, which occurred on 6 June 1944, prior to the landings on Normandy. 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 there withstood numerous attempts by the Germans to re-capture the location. They were soon reinforced and relieved by soldiers from Lord Lovat's 1 Special Service Brigade, famously led by piper Bill Millin. It was subsequently further reinforced by units of the British 3rd Division.

The AAC was broken up in 1949, with the SAS returning to its independent status, while the Parachute Regiment and Glider Pilot Regiment came under the umbrella of the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps. The pilots who had once flown the gliders soon had to transfer to flying powered aircraft, becoming part of the RAF Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadrons, several of which were manned by reserve personnel.

The present Army Air Corps

A Westland Lynx of the Army Air Corps ready to touch down on a desert road south of Basra Airport, November 2003

In 1957 the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps was renamed to The Parachute Regiment, while the Glider Pilot Regiment and the Air Observation Squadrons amalgamated into a new unit, the Army Air Corps.[9]

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 recce,[10] 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 capable of the additional fire power when carrying the Elite Air Door Gunners.

Basic rotary flying training was carried out on the Bell Sioux in the 1970s, the Westland Gazelle in the 1980s and 1990s and is currently conducted on the Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel.

Fixed-wing types in AAC service have included the Auster AOP.6 and AOP.9 and DHC-2 Beaver AL.1 in the observation and liaison roles. Since 1989, the AAC have operated a number of Britten-Norman Islander and Defender aircraft for surveillance and light transport duties. The corps operated the DHC-1 Chipmunk T.10 in the training role until its replacement by the Slingsby T67 Firefly in the 1990s. The Firefly was replaced by the Grob Tutor in 2010.

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.

The AAC today


The strength of the Army Air Corps is believed to be some 2,000 Regular personnel, of which 500 are officers. However, the AAC draws an additional 2,600 personnel from the Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Therefore, total related Army Air Corps personnel is around 4,600.[11]


The AAC operates fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The AAC uses the same designation system for aircraft as the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. Two types of fixed-wing aircraft are operated by the Corps, primarily for reconnaissance purposes: the Britten-Norman Islander AL1[12] and the Britten-Norman Defender AL1/AL2/T3. The Defenders are also employed in the command and communication role with limited use in transporting personnel. Additionally, AAC pilots use the fixed-wing Grob Tutor for Elementary Flying Training (at Army Flying Grading & DEFTS).

Today the larger section of the AAC is the rotary-wing part. Its aviators fly four types of helicopter, and within each type there are usually several marks/variants which carry out different roles. Pilots designated for rotary-wing service train at the Defence Helicopter Flying School, 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 rotary-wing aircraft include: the Bell 212HP AH1,[13] the Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin II,[14] the Eurocopter Squirrel HT2,[15] the Westland Gazelle AH1,[16] the Westland Lynx AH9A[17] and the AgustaWestland Apache AH1.[18]



Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing

Independent units

Former units


In the future, the current regiments will be consolidated into the following structure:[20]

Aviation Reconnaissance Force

16 Air Assault Brigade, Wattisham | Apache AH.1

Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing

Army Reserves[21]

  • 6 Regiment AAC
    • RHQ/HQ Squadron, Bury St. Edmunds
    • 675 Squadron, Taunton/Yeovil
    • 677 Squadron, Bury St. Edmunds
    • 678 Squadron, Milton Keynes/Luton
    • 679 Squadron, Portsmouth/Middle Wallop
    • Aviation Specialist Group, Middle Wallop

1 and 9 Regt AAC will merge under one headquarters (1 Regt AAC) and re-locate to RNAS Yeovilton to form a large regiment equipped with the new AgustaWestland Wildcat helicopter not before Oct 15. The Regular component of Army Air Corps capability will consist of two regular aviation regiments equipped with Apache, one large regular aviation regiment equipped with Wildcat, and one regular manned aerial surveillance regiment,[22] although the Gazelle out-of-service date is currently 2018 and it has not yet been confirmed whether or how the capability will be replaced.[23] All five squadrons from 1 and 9 AAC. will remain. Four squadrons will be the front line Lynx Wildcat squadrons, one (652 Squadron) will become the Wildcat Operational Conversion Squadron.[24] There will be two frontline squadrons of Apache helicopters in both 3 and 4 Regiment AAC, with 3 Regiment also parenting the Apache OCU, 653 Squadron. One Regiment will be at high readiness at any one time. One of the squadrons will be attached to HMS Ocean and/or the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers for expeditionary operations. Another will be attached to the lead armoured battlegroup.[25]


The Army's training structure will remain broadly the same. Training of future Army Air Corps aircrew will be delivered by the joint service UK Military Flying Training System. Elementary Flying Training will continue to be delivered at RAF Cranwell, alongside Royal Navy students.

Training Units, Middle Wallop

  • 7 (Training) Regiment AAC
    • 670 Squadron - Operational Training
    • 671 Squadron - Lynx/Gazelle/Bell 212 (Future uncertain, given retirement of Gazelle and Lynx fleets)
    • 673 Squadron - Apache Conversion to type
  • Defence Elementary Flying Training School, RAF Cranwell | Tutor T.1
    • 674 Squadron
  • Defence Helicopter Flying School, RAF Shawbury | Squirrel HT.1
    • 660 Squadron

Battle honours

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:

Order of precedence

Preceded by
Special Air Service
British Army Order of Precedence Succeeded by
Royal Army Chaplains' Department

See also


  1. "World Air Forces" (PDF). Flight International. 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Farrar-Hockley 1994, p. 9.
  3. Farrar-Hockley 1994, p. 17.
  4. Farrar-Hockley 1994, p. 41.
  5. Rawlings 1984, pp. 255-259.
  6. Rawlings 1984, p. 259.
  7. Halley 1988, pp. 444-451.
  8. Jefford 2001, pp. 102-105.
  9. Farrar-Hockley 1994, pp.179, 187-194.
  12. Islander
  13. [1]
  14. "Photos: Eurocopter AS-365N-3 Dauphin 2 Aircraft Pictures". 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2014-05-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Squirrel
  16. Gazelle
  17. Westland Lynx
  18. Attack Helicopter
  20. Army 2020
  21. "Army 2020 Reserve Structure & Basing" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Army to reduce by 23 units - British Army Website". 2012-07-05. Retrieved 2014-05-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Army Air Corps future structure". UK Armed Forces Commentary. Retrieved 2015-05-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Tim Ripley, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly (2013-10-13). "British Army helicopters leave Germany - IHS Jane's 360". Retrieved 2014-05-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Farrar-Hockley, General Sir Anthony. The Army in the Air: The History of the Artmy Air Corps. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994. ISBN 0-7509-0617-0.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918-1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE, BA, RAF(Retd.). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1988 (second edition 2001). ISBN 1-85310-053-6.
  • Mead, Peter. Soldiers in the Air: The Development of Army Flying. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1967. OCLC 464211829
  • Parham Major General H.J. & Belfield E.M.G. Unarmed Into Battle: The Story of the Air Observation Post. Warren & son, for the Air O.P. Officers' Association, Winchester, 1956. (Second edition: Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK: Picton Publishing Ltd., 1986. ISBN 978-0-948251-14-6)
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.

External links