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Unit History: Army Air Corps Centre

Army Air Corps Centre
Known throughout the World as the Home of Army Flying The Army Air Corps at Middle Wallop Stockbridge Hampshire had a name change in 2009 to reflect its current and on-going missions. From now on it is called the Army Aviation Centre, containing 2 (Training) Regt. 7 (Flying) Regt. School of Army Aviation and attached Units. Middle Wallop airfield is located in the Hampshire countryside near to the village of Stockbridge and not that far in flying terms from either Andover or Southampton.
 
The Royal Air Force were the first to train pilots at Middle Wallop when a pilot training school opened in 1940. The base was initially going to be used to for Blenheim Bombers but in the summer of 1940 when the Battle of Britain was being fought number 609 Squadron Royal Air Force flying the Supermarine Spitfire was moved to Middle Wallop. During the same year No. 604 Squadron Royal Air Force moved in with their Blenheim Bombers.
 
Later in the Second World War in 1943 the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) moved their 9th Air Force to Middle Wallop as the 9th Fighter Command Headquarters. The airfield also hosted the 67th Group another USAAF Group. The 67th were tasked with reconnaissance using the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang both in the recognisance versions. Post D-Day the 9th AF HQ’s and the 67th Reconnaissance Group moved away in 1944 from Middle Wallop to France thus ending the association with Middle Wallop.
 
Middle Wallop was handed back to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in July 1944 when No. 418 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) arrived with its de Havilland Mosquito nightfighter aircraft. They stayed at Middle Wallop until the arrival in January 1945 of the Royal Navy (The Senior Service!). Over night RAF Middle Wallop became Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Middle Wallop. HMS Flycatcher her five units of aircraft moved in from RNAS Ludham which following their move once again became an RAF Station. Four of the five RNAS Units were deployed abroad one as far as Australia the others to Hong Kong and Singapore. The fifth remained in the UK following the end of the war in the Pacific.
 
In 1946 the Royal Air Force once again returned and took ownership of Middle Wallop the Supermarine Spitfires of No. 164 Squadron RAF taking the number plate of 63 Squadron. In 1947 No. 227 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) RAF moved to Middle Wallop. 227 OCU was an Army Air Observation Training Unit. Having moved to the airfield the Unit was renamed in 1950 as Air Observation Post School and later in 1952 it became the Light Aircraft School. No. 228 Squadron Royal Air Force was at Middle Wallop between 1953 and 1957 flying their Boulton and Paul Balliols.
 
During 1954 a Development Flight of the Central Flying School (CFS) using helicopters was formed at RAF Middle Wallop, the Development Flight led in 1955 to the establishment of the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit. As the name implies it was a joint service Unit and remained so until 1957 when British Army Aviation became independent of the Royal Air Force. The Army Air Corps was born and Middle Wallop became the home of Army Flying and the RAF title dropped from the stations name. Middle Wallop remained as the Home of Army Flying until 2009 when it became the Army Aviation Centre.
 
During the 1980’s Middle Wallop was host to numerous Air Shows set up by the Royal International Air Tattoo committee. The shows would be in the intervening years when RIAT held first at North Weald in 1972, then RAF Greenham Common (under USAF control) latterly and to date at RAF Fairford. The finale of the shows at Middle Wallop would be a mass lift of helicopters predominately Lynx and Gazelles who would seem to appear from nowhere over the hill at the southern most point of the airfield. It was not unusual to see fifty or more helicopters in the air at the same time.
 
Middle Wallop was home to the Blue Eagles helicopter display team flying their Westland Gazelle and Lynx helicopters. When formed in 1968 all the pilots of the Blue Eagles were Qualified Helicopter Instructors (QHI) and gave their free time to attend air shows throughout the length and breadth of the UK and Europe to thrill the crowds. Thereafter pilots were posted for a tour (Season) with the Blue Eagles on an annual basis. The Team Leader of the Blue Eagles was a QHI; he had no other duties other than to lead the Blue Eagles. Sadly the Blue Eagles displayed for the last time in 2008 when they became a victim of defence budget restraints and on-going training needs at Middle Wallop.
 
The Army Air Corps Historic Flight has its home here the AAC Historic Flight comprises a Westland Scout, de Havilland Canada Beaver (fixed wing) Aerospatiale Alouette 2, de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T.10, Westland Sioux, an Auster (fixed wing) and a SARO Skeeter. All the aircraft are flown by volunteers (QHI/IP’s) in their spare time some times when duties and commitments permit at air shows around the UK.
 
Today young men and women join the Army and have a passion for flying. After a rigorous interview and selection process the lucky few are chosen to become pilots and spend their first few weeks learning to fly fixed winged aircraft. Once they have their “wings” they come back to Middle Wallop where they are trained in the art of rotary winged flying (helicopter). Initially they will be trained on the Aerospatiale AS.350BB Squirrel a single engine helicopter operated by No. 670 Squadron AAC (Army Air Corps). 670 Squadron is part of the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) who are based at Royal Air Force Shawbury Shropshire. The Army keep their contingent (No.670 Sqn) of helicopters and Instructor Pilots (IP’s) at Middle Wallop.
 
From the AS.350BB and once qualified rotary wing pilots they have the opportunity to be selected for the Lynx or Apache Squadrons. Further training will be completed on the Westland Lynx AH.7 (has skids not wheels) before the new pilots will be assigned to a Squadron. The training will take the best part of two years from ab-initio to fully qualified but as one “mature” pilot told me “then the learning really begins”.
 
For those chosen to fly the Westland WAH-64D Apache the same training process will have to be accomplished over the same time frame. As with the pilots who are chosen to fly the Lynx the Apache candidates undergo approximately 12 months of intensive training on the Apache learning how to use its entire computer assisted weapons and systems.
 
In theory a young man or woman who joined the Army aged 18 could by the time they qualify be flying an Apache helicopter in a theatre of conflict/war by the time they reached 20 years old. Under their command would be one of the world’s most expensive lethal flying weapons. To purchase an “off the shelf” ready for use WAH-64D today (2009) would cost you a mere £38.2 million.
 
The Army Air Corps have 66 of these aircraft on their charge. Twelve WAH-64D’s are based at Middle Wallop for training purposes the others are either in theatre or based at Wattisham Camp in Suffolk. Local servicing of the twelve assigned to 673 (AH) Training Squadron is carried out on the aircraft at Middle Wallop. 7 Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) based at Wattisham cater for the remainder of the fleet and for all the major work needed by the Apache fleet.
 
Middle Wallop Instructors not only teach pilots they teach those on the ground how to support and sustain the on-going conflicts world wide that the UK Forces are involved in. Soldiers returning from the theatre of operations impart their knowledge to those about to depart to the current theatre(s) only in this way can the information be kept current and up to date.
 
In any “spare” time that the Instructors and students at Middle Wallop have they can join the Army’s Ice Hockey Team (www.ice-hawks.com) Under the leadership of WO2 S M Girdler the Ice Hawks recently reached the Inter-Service finals only to be beaten by their arch rivals the Royal Air Force.
 
The Museum of Army Flying (www.flying-museum.org.uk) is co-located just outside the boundary fence at Middle Wallop. It is as its name implies an overview and history of Army flying from the beginning to the present day. A very worthwhile and entertaining time can be had at Middle Wallop not only in the Museum but from its car park you can watch the activities of the resident Army Air Corps Squadrons. The visiting fixed wing aircraft tend to park fairly close to the Museum area. The Museum has a small café where both hot and cold food is served it is accessible both from inside the Museum and from outside if you just want a tea/coffee stop.
 
No article would be complete with acknowledgement to those that helped produce it; my thanks therefore to the various AAC Officers, other ranks and their staff. Special thanks go to WO2 S M Girdler for his comprehensive tours of Middle Wallop during which much of the information for this article was gathered.
 
Army – Be the best; of that there is no doubt.
ReProduced with permission from:  www.rhag.org.uk
 
 
Training pilot Air Op was carried out by 227 OCU which (later 43 OTU) at Andover. This unit later moved to RAF Middle Wallop and became known as the Air OP School and then the Light Aircraft School. Glider pilots were trained at Glider Training Schools at Thame, Netheravon and other places until the 1950s when they were also sent to the Light Aircraft School for their powered flying course. The Light Aircraft School expanded and took over the entire RAF Middle Wallop Station as the Army Air Corps Centre in 1958 and since then has carried out all Army flying training with the exception of flying instructors who are still trained at the Central Flying School. Since 1970 soldiers have been trained as Air Gunners and Air Observers. Since 1974 such personnel have been known as Aircrewmen.
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Active From: 1957 - Present

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