Army Air Corps (United Kingdom)

Last updated

Army Air Corps
Army Air Corps logo.jpg
Cap Badge of the Army Air Corps.
CountryFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Type Army aviation
RoleBattlefield support, reconnaissance
Size2,000 personnel
Approx. 200 aircraft [1]
Garrison/HQ1 Regiment: Yeovilton
2 Regiment: Middle Wallop
3 Regiment: Wattisham
4 Regiment: Wattisham
5 Regiment: Aldergrove
6 Regiment: Army Reserve
7 Regiment: Middle Wallop
MarchQuick: Recce Flight
Slow: Thieving Magpie
Battle honours Falkland Islands 1982
Wadi al Batin, Gulf 1991
Basra, 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
Reconnaissance Gazelle AH1
Wildcat AH1
Trainer Airbus Jupiter
Airbus Juno
Transport Bell 212HP

AS365N3 Dauphin II

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 (which are no longer part of the AAC). 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 across the world. They are located in Britain, Brunei, Canada, and Germany. Some AAC squadrons provide the air assault elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade through Joint Helicopter Command.



First formation: 1942–1949

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]

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), Air Landing Regiments, 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, including 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.

Second formation: 1957–present

A Westland Lynx AH.7 of the Army Air Corps taking off from a desert road south of Basra Airport, Iraq, November 2003 Army Air Corps Lynx linking up with RAF regiment vehicle patrol. MOD 45142954.jpg
A Westland Lynx AH.7 of the Army Air Corps taking off from a desert road south of Basra Airport, Iraq, November 2003
Eight Apache attack helicopters of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps during Exercise Talon Gravis, 2019. Apache attack helicopters over Suffolk during Exercise Talon Gravis.jpg
Eight Apache attack helicopters of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps during Exercise Talon Gravis, 2019.

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. [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 reconnaissance; [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, 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. [11] 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.

Cold War

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: [12] [13] [14] [15]

War on Terror

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. [11]



Army Air Corps personnel on parade, 2011 Army Air Corps Soldiers on Parade at Middle Wallop MOD 45153461.jpg
Army Air Corps personnel on parade, 2011

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. [16]


In October 2011, the Army Air Corps adopted their first Corps Mascot: Zephyr, a bald eagle. [17]


As of 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. Fixed-wing training aircraft include the Grob Tutor for Army Flying Grading and the Grob Prefect (for Elementary Flying Training by No. 674 Squadron Army Air Corps). [18] [19]

Today AAC aviators fly four 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 [20] 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 rotary-wing aircraft include: the Bell 212HP AH1, [21] the Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin II, [22] the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno, [23] the Westland Gazelle AH1, [24] the Westland Wildcat AH.1 [25] and the AgustaWestland Apache AH1. [26]

Transfer of Fixed-Wing assets

In April 2019, the Army transferred the AAC’s Islander and Defender aircraft operated by 651 Squadron from 5 Regiment to No. 1 Group Royal Air Force. The aircraft will continue to be operated by Army personnel to be replaced by RAF personnel through attrition. [27]

Current structure


Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing

Independent units

No. 651 Squadron personnel part of No. 1 Group RAF based at JHC FS Aldergrove. [27] [29]

Former units


In the future, the regiments will be consolidated into the following structure: [30]

Aviation Reconnaissance Force

Supporting 3rd (UK) Division, 16 Air Assault Brigade and Royal Marines, Wattisham | Apache AH.1

Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing

Army Reserves [32]

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. 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, [33] 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. [34] 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. [35]

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. [36] However, under Army 2020 Refine, 3 Regiment AAC will be tasked to support the armoured infantry, and strike brigades of 3 (UK) Division and 4 Regiment AAC will support the army's 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines. [37]

5 Regiment may be disbanded following the future retirement of the Gazelle fleet operated by 665 Squadron and also as a consequence of the transfer in 2019 of the Defender and Islander operated by 651 Squadron to the RAF. [27]


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

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
Special Reconnaissance Regiment

See also

Related Research Articles

Aérospatiale Gazelle Light helicopter, French, 1973–present

The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a French five-seat helicopter, commonly used for light transport, scouting and light attack duties. It is powered by a single Turbomeca Astazou turbine engine and was the first helicopter to feature a fenestron tail instead of a conventional tail rotor. It was designed by Sud Aviation, later Aérospatiale, and manufactured in France and the United Kingdom through a joint production agreement with Westland Aircraft. Further manufacturing under license was performed by SOKO in Yugoslavia and the Arab British Helicopter Company (ABHCO) in Egypt.

Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove

Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove or more simply JHC FS Aldergrove is located 4.4 miles (7.1 km) south of Antrim, Northern Ireland and 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Belfast and adjoins Belfast International Airport. It is sometimes referred to simply as Aldergrove which is the name of a nearby village. The military flying units share the Aldergrove runways but have their own separate facilities and helipad.

RNAS Yeovilton (HMS <i>Heron</i>) Royal Naval Air Station in Somerset, England, United Kingdom

Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, or RNAS Yeovilton, is an airfield of the Royal Navy and British Army, sited a few miles north of Yeovil, Somerset. It is one of two active Fleet Air Arm bases and is currently home to the Royal Navy Wildcat HMA2 and Army Air Corps Wildcat AH1 helicopters as well as the Royal Navy's Commando Helicopter Force Merlin HCi3/3A/4 and Wildcat AH1 helicopters.

AgustaWestland Apache Attack helicopter series of the British Army

The AgustaWestland Apache is a licence-built version of the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter for the British Army Air Corps. The first eight helicopters were built by Boeing; the remaining 59 were assembled by Westland Helicopters at Yeovil, Somerset in England from Boeing-supplied kits. Changes from the AH-64D include Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines, a new electronic defensive aids suite and a folding blade mechanism allowing the British version to operate from ships. The helicopter was initially designated WAH-64 by Westland Helicopters and was later given the designation Apache AH Mk 1 by the Ministry of Defence.

Army Flying Museum

The Army Flying Museum, previously known as the Museum of Army Flying, is a British military aviation museum about the history of flying in the British Army. It is located beside the Army Air Corps Centre in Middle Wallop, close to Andover in Hampshire, England.

Joint Helicopter Command

Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) is a tri-service organisation uniting battlefield military helicopters of the British Armed Forces for command and coordination purposes. Joint Helicopter Command reports to Commander Field Army at Andover.

Defence Helicopter Flying School British military flying school

The Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) was a military flying school based at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, England. The school, established in 1997, was a tri-service organisation and trained helicopter aircrews for all three British armed forces. It initially used the Eurocopter Squirrel HT1 and Bell Griffin HT1 helicopters, which were later replaced by the Airbus Juno HT1 and Airbus Jupiter HT1.

AAC Middle Wallop airport in the United Kingdom

Army Aviation Centre (AAC) Middle Wallop is a British Army airfield located near the Hampshire village of Middle Wallop, used for Army Air Corps training. The base hosts 2 (Training) Regiment AAC and 7 (Training) Regiment AAC under the umbrella of the Army Aviation Centre. The role of 2 (Training) Regiment is ground training and 7 (Training) Regiment trains aircrew on AAC aircraft after they completed basic training at RAF Shawbury.

No. 663 Squadron RAF was an Air Observation Post (AOP) unit of the Royal Air Force (RAF), which was officially formed in Italy on 14 August 1944. Numbers 651 to 663 Squadrons of the RAF were Air Observation Post units working closely with Army units in artillery spotting and liaison. A further three of these squadrons, 664–666, were manned with Canadian personnel. Their duties and squadron numbers were transferred to the Army with the formation of the Army Air Corps on 1 September 1957.

663 Squadron AAC is a flying unit of the British Army's Army Air Corps (AAC).

Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing

The Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW) is a Royal Air Force and British Army organisation that coordinates the provision of aviation support to the United Kingdom Special Forces.

Wattisham Airfield airport in the United Kingdom

Wattisham Airfield is the biggest centralised operational Army Airfield in the UK, located next to the small village of Wattisham in Suffolk, England. It is home to 3 Regiment Army Air Corps and 4 Regiment Army Air Corps. They are part of the Attack Helicopter Force (AHF) within the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), whose headquarters is at Army Headquarters. They fly the Westland WAH-64 Apache helicopter.

No. 679 Squadron AAC is a British Army Reserve helicopter support squadron and is part of the 6 Regiment Army Air Corps. The squadron provides groundcrews to support Apache AH1 helicopters.

6 Regiment Army Air Corps is the sole Army Reserve regiment of the British Army Air Corps (AAC). The regiment operates in a groundcrew role, providing support to Army Aviation units of the Joint Helicopter Command.

No. 658 Squadron AAC

658 Squadron AAC is a British Army helicopter squadron part of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing. The squadron was re-designated from 8 Flight AAC in 2013.

3 Regiment Army Air Corps

3 Regiment Army Air Corps is the British Army's Divisional deep attack Aviation Battle Group, operating the WAH-64D Apache attack helicopter.

No. 660 Squadron AAC is a squadron of the British Army's Army Air Corps (AAC). The squadron traces its lineage to a Royal Air Force squadron that existed during the Second World War. In the late 1950s the squadron's numerical was transferred to the AAC and since its formation in 1969, it has operated as a British Army unit flying various types of battlefield helicopters. The squadron has been re-formed and disbanded on a number of occasions. The squadron is currently based at RAF Shawbury where it forms part of No. 1 Flying Training School, but it has been deployed operationally to Northern Ireland, Hong Kong and Brunei throughout its existence.

5 Regiment Army Air Corps is a regiment of the British Army and is part of the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). The regiment is based in Northern Ireland at JHC Flying Station Aldergrove.

This is the Operation Herrick aerial order of battle, which lists any aerial or airfield protection units of the British armed forces that have taken part in the duration of Operation Herrick between 2002 and 2014.

7 (Training) Regiment Army Air Corps is a regiment of the British Army and is part of the Joint Helicopter Command. The regiment is responsible for providing all of the flight training of Army Air Corps (AAC) pilots. The regiment is based at the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop.


  1. "World Air Forces" (PDF). Flight International. 2014. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  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.
  10. "Gazelle – British Army Website". Archived from the original on 10 April 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  11. 1 2 Ripley, Tim (14 September 2016). "UK MoD looks to transfer Army Defender and Islander aircraft to RAF". Jane's Defence Weekly. Archived from the original on 13 August 2017.
  12. "Royal Army Service Corps". British Army units 1945 on. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  13. "Army Air Corps". Helis. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  14. "BAOR Order of Battle July 1989" (PDF). Louis Vieuxbill. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  15. "Aviation". Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 16 June 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  16. THE ARMY AIR CORPS (AAC) Archived 1 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine ,
  17. "Zephyr – the Army Air Corps mascot". Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 21 June 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  18. "Royal Air Force Grob Tutor". Royal International Air Tattoo. Archived from the original on 19 September 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  19. "Royal Air Force". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  20. "".External link in |title= (help)
  21. "Bell 212 – British Army Website". Archived from the original on 23 January 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  22. "Photos: Eurocopter AS-365N-3 Dauphin 2 Aircraft Pictures". 20 November 2008. Archived from the original on 30 July 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  23. "Royal Air Force". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  24. "Gazelle". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  25. "Westland Wildcat". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  26. "Attack Helicopter". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  27. 1 2 3 4 Jennings, Gareth (2 April 2019). "UK transfers Defender and Islander special mission aircraft from AAC to RAF". Jane's Defence Weekly. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  28. "The Eagle" (PDF). Autumn 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  29. "651 Squadron Army Air Corps". British Army. Archived from the original on 4 June 2017.
  30. Army 2020 Archived 18 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  31. Ripley, Tim (12 September 2017). "UK reorganises special forces aviation". Jane's 360. Archived from the original on 4 November 2017. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  32. "Army 2020 Reserve Structure & Basing" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 July 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  33. "Army to reduce by 23 units – British Army Website". 5 July 2012. Archived from the original on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  34. "Army Air Corps future structure". UK Armed Forces Commentary. Archived from the original on 30 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  35. Tim Ripley, London – IHS Jane's Defence Weekly (13 October 2013). "British Army helicopters leave Germany – IHS Jane's 360". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  36. Anonymous (8 July 2014). "654 Squadron's Last Parade Before Disbandment". Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  37. Ripley, Tim (9 February 2017). "UK re-roles Apache attack helicopter units". IHS Janes. Archived from the original on 13 August 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.