News: Army aviation explored

The Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop has a very varied past having originated as an RAF training school at the beginning of the 2nd World War. At the end of the war it was transferred to the Royal Navy for a year before the RAF moved back with a squadron of Spitfires. The Army Air Observation Post training unit joined shortly after. In the 1950s the Army Air Corps established the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit and when Army Aviation became independent of the RAF, the School of Army Aviation was established there. The Army Aviation Centre was formally set up in 2009 and is now the home of Joint Helicopter Command. The history is extremely well captured at the Museum of Army Flying which is where 18 CIEHF Southern Regional Group members gathered for the visit to AAC Middle Wallop on 18 September.

The afternoon began with a visit to the Historic Army Aircraft Flight Trust where we were shown the Scout, Sioux, Skeeter helicopters and Chipmunk, Auster and Beaver aircraft which were used by the Army Air Corps in the 1950s and 60s and are maintained on the civil register for use at airshows by a group of volunteers headed up by ex-Army Aircraft Engineer Dave Gillespie . It was fascinating to look at the older generation technology and appreciate the amount of effort required to maintain airworthiness.
We were then brought up to the present day with access to the sophisticated Apache helicopter (pictured with Jo Davies). Two Apache Instructors, Major Lee and Staff Sergeant Otter, who gave us a comprehensive overview of the weapon systems, defensive aids suites and cockpit displays and controls. The weapon aiming is largely controlled by the helmet mounted monocular sight and teamwork between the two pilots is essential to achieve effective combat in very hostile and alien environments. Egress is not very easy, particularly if the helicopter crashes in the sea. The escape hatches need to be pushed out prior to immersing in the water as flotation devices are not currently available. There were examples of good ergonomic designs with ease of identification of controls by touch and feel, which was of particular importance for night sorties. Maintenance of the systems was demonstrated to be very straightforward with easy access to the Line Replaceable Units.
We completed our visit with access to the Engineering Flight Safety Department who allowed us entry to the crashed helicopter hangar. The accident investigation reports were available to appreciate the causal factors. The Flight Safety culture was illustrated by the posters on the hangar wall.
Overall a fascinating, technical and educational visit providing CIEHF members with an insight into the demanding role of training and maintaining skills for Army Aviation operational readiness. It also gave members the opportunity to network and share experiences particularly the student members doing on-line courses. Our thanks go to Staff Sergeant Stuart Owen, 667 Sqn, Middle Wallop and Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Hayes, RAF Odiham, for their hard work in organising and hosting the meeting.

Jo Davies, Southern Regional Group Organiser