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Formation of the new Army Air Corps

The original Army Air Corps (AAC) was disbanded in 1950 however the Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR) continued until 1957. In that year the Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys directed the War Office to take responsibility for the manning and operation of its own light aircraft. These aircraft would be used for reconnaissance, the direction of artillery fire and general liaison flying. An agreement was reached with the Air Ministry that the existing Air Observation Post (AOP) units and Light Liaison flights would be merged  to form an Army Air Corps. This Corps would be responsible for the command and control of unarmed light aircraft not exceeding 4000lbs all up weight. The newly formed Corps would operate the Austers AOP 9s and the Skeeter Mk 12 helicopters just entering service, while the Royal Air Force (RAF) would operate the larger Whirlwind and Sycamore aircraft.

On 1st September 1957 the former GPR together with the remaining AOP Squadron were disbanded and the new AAC came into being. A Headquarters was established at Middle Wallop, where the Corps Headquarters is to this day. The RAF, at first, continued to provide servicing personnel until the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were able to assume this function. At that time it was necessary to borrow a number of technicians from the Royal Navy as an interim measure. With only 45 permanent AAC officers, the majority of pilots were officers and non-commissioned officers from all arms attached for flying tours before returning to their parent Regiment or Corps. It was decided in 1961 that the Skeeter should provide immediate battlefield support. Unfortunately some shortcomings in the performance and availability of this aircraft meant that the Auster had to be retained to insure cover until finally phased out in 1966.

In 1960 the AAC ordered a large quantity of turbine powered Westland Scout AH 1 utility helicopters to replace the fleet of Skeeter and Auster aircraft. Escalating costs and development problems prevented this and an interim order for 17 Alouette II from Sud Aviation helped to fill the gap. It was obvious at this time that there was a need for a light two/three seat helicopter in addition to the larger utility helicopter. The British Aircraft Industry had no suitable helicopter and the American Bell 47G3 was selected in 1964 and was quickly put into production under license by Westland Helicopters. Named the Sioux AH I it served successfully for over ten years until replaced by the faster and more agile Gazelle AH 1.

Several types of aircraft could be seen at Middle Wallop on trial in the late 1950s early 1960s. These included three Beagle Wallis Autogyros, two Edgar Percival EP9, the Canadian De Havilland Beaver and the extraordinary inflatable ML Aviation Delta. It was finally decided to buy the Beaver in 1961 to undertake the medium range requirement for communication flying. Requirements for the next generation of helicopters to replace the Sioux and Scout were drawn up by the Directorate of Land/Air Warfare in the mid 1960s. The future need was for two types of helicopters, a utility helicopter capable of lifting eight to ten men with a one ton pay load and a light helicopter no larger than a Sioux but with a five seat capacity.

The requirements resulted in the introduction to service of the Gazelle AH 1 in 1974 and the Lynx AH 1 in 1978. Prior to this, in 1970 armed action was added to the AACs primary role of observation and reconnaissance and Scout aircraft were fitted with Nord SS11 wire guided missiles to counter the overwhelming numerical superiority of Eastern bloc armoured vehicles. Since then, the AAC has distinguished itself as a potent combat arm in every major campaign around the world including Malaya, Borneo, Aden, Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The role of the AAC today has not changed considerably from those of the early pioneers: observation and reconnaissance as core skills have been complimented by the introduction and development of the helicopter as an offensive weapon, first in the anti-tank role with the Scout and SS11 anti tank missile and the Lynx with the TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) missile. This offensive capability progressed with the introduction of the Apache AH 1 attack helicopter in 2001.

AAC Scout returning from a sortie at Bessbrook

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