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Although the present Corps dates only from 1957, its origins can be traced to the early days of World War II. In 1942 demands for battlefield air reconnaissance and direction of artillery fire led to the formation of Air OP (Air Observation Post) squadrons of light observation aircraft, piloted by Royal Artillery officers. The same year saw the raising of an Army Air Corps comprising the Glider Pilot Regiment and the Parachute Regiment (Army Order 21/42). In 1944 the recently formed Special Air Service Regiment was also incorporated in the Corps.


In 1945 the SAS was (temporarily) disbanded; the Parachute Regiment was divorced from the Corps in 1949 to join the Infantry of the Line, and in 1950 the original Army Air Corps was disbanded. The remaining glider pilots were retrained to fly powered aircraft and were formed into Light Liaison Flights operating alongside or as part of the Air OP squadrons.


It soon became clear that the Army had an increasing need of light aircraft and helicopter support for a variety of tasks, and under Army Order 82 of 1957 the existing Army Air Corps was formed from the Air OP and Light Liaison units. Its depot and training center were located, as today, at Middle Wallop, Hampshire, a former RAF station.


From 1957 until 1973 the new Army Air Corps consisted of a small cadre of Officer and NCO pilots supplemented by volunteers attached from other Arms. Ground crew duties were also performed by attached soldiers, mainly from the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Artillery. However in 1973 the Army Air Corps began to recruit its own ground crew soldiers. Private soldiers in the Corps are known as Air Troopers.


Since 1957 all field maintenance, recovery and repair of the Corps’ aircraft have been carried out by attached personnel of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.







WB 610


The Chipmunk was the de Havilland Co’s successor to the world-famous Tiger Moth biplane. Unlike the Tiger Moth, however, it was first designed by the Canadian branch of de Havilland at Toronto, where the prototype made its first flight on 22 May 1946. A total of 158 were built in Canada, including some for the RCAF, before production ceased in 1951.


With the appearance of the Chipmunk in England, the Air Ministry decided to adopt the type as an ab initio trainer to Spec. 8/48 after tests at Boscombe Down with G-AKDN, fitted out to full RAF requirements with blind-flying panels, radio and manually operated variable pitch airscrew. Production of the RAF version began with WB 549 and the type was designated Chipmunk T.10. Total output of Chipmunks for the RAF was 740, the last being delivered on 1 October 1953.


The first RAF Chipmunks were delivered to the Oxford University Air Squadron, where they superseded Tiger Moths at Kidlington early in 1950. Thereafter the Chipmunk became standard equipment in all 17 University Air Squadrons and was also chosen as the basic type for the 20 or so Reserve Flying Schools of the RAF Voluntary Reserve, where it was flown by the ‘week-end pilots’ until the schools were closed as an economy measure in 1952-1953.


During the expansion of the RAF pilot-training programme in 1951-1952 the Chipmunk was chosen for the ab initio instruction of National Service pilots, who afterwards took advanced training on Oxfords. At the RAF College, Cranwell, Chipmunks replaced Prentices and remained in service until superseded by Provosts in November 1954. Chipmunks also entered service with Light Communications Flights in Germany and elsewhere.


A point worthy of note is that HRH the Duke of Edinburgh took his first flying instruction in a Chipmunk (WP 861) at White Waltham in November 1952.


Technical Data (Chipmunk T.10)





Power Plant:





Two-seat elementary trainer. All-metal stressed-skin construction. Maker’s designation, DHC 1.

de Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd., Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

One 145-horsepower de Havilland Gipsy Major 8.

Span, 34 feet 4 inches. Length, 25 feet 8 inches. Height, 7 feet 1 inch. Wing area, 172 square feet.

Empty, 1,417 pounds. Loaded, 2,000 pounds.

Maximum speed, 138 miles/hour at sea level. Cruising, 119 miles/hour. Climb, 800 feet/minute; 7.3 minutes to 5,000 feet. Range, 300 miles. Endurance, 2.3 hours. Service ceiling, 16,000 feet.






Auster Mk I, LB 278


This series of light-cabin monoplanes was supplied to the RAF throughout the Second World War by Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) Ltd., a firm which changed its name to Auster Aircraft Ltd. In March 1946. Until the new name was introduced, the aircraft were known as Taylorcraft Austers. The design originated with a pre-war American light plane of 1938 built in England under licence. At the outbreak of war some 14 Taylorcraft Plus C (55-horsepower Lycoming) were taken over for communications duties by the RAF, later being modified to take Cirrus Minor engines. In 1940 the Army took over eight Plus D (90-horsepower Cirrus Minor) light planes for experiments with a new type of artillery spotting work later to be known as Air Observation Post duties. The success of these trials led to the production of the first fully militarized Taylorcraft, the Auster Mk I (prototype T 9120) with 90-horsepower Cirrus Minor, 100 of which were built, from LB 263. Taylorcrafts entered service with the original AOP Squadron, No. 651, in July 1941, and Auster Mk Is with No. 654 Squadron in August 1942.


In 1942 the Auster Mk II (130-horsepower Lycoming) appeared, but only two were built, owing to shortage of American engines, and the next main production type was the Auster Mk III (prototype LB 319) with 130-horsepower Gypsy Major 1, of which 467 were built. At the end of 1943, when Lycoming engines once again became available, production switched to the Auster Mk IV (prototype MT 453) with 130-horsepower Lycoming, of which 255 were built. The Auster Mk IV introduced a third seat, all earlier models being two-seaters. The last of the wartime Austers was the Mk V (prototype MT 356), similar to the Mk IV, but with a blind-flying panel. Some Mk Vs were used on communications duties as well as AOP. Total output of the Auster Mk V was 780, terminating with TW 520 delivered on 15 January 1946. Austers first saw operational service in North Africa with the invasion of Algeria, and afterwards served in Sicily, Italy and with the 2nd Tactical Air Force from Normandy to Germany. The Mk I is illustrated above and the Mk V in the GA drawing below.


Squadron Allocations


2nd Tactical Air Force:


Desert Air Force:

Nos. 653, 658, 659 and 662 Squadrons with 8, 12 and 30 Corps. Nos. 652, 657, 660, 661, 664 and 665 Squadrons with 1 Corps and 2 Canadian Corps.


Nos. 651, 654, 655 and 663 Squadrons of 253 Wing. Also Nos. 656, 666, 671, 672 and 673 Squadrons.


Technical Data (Auster Mk IV)






Power Plant:






Three-seat AOP. Composite wood and metal structure, fabric covered. Maker’s designations: Model D/1 (Auster Mk I), Model F (Auster Mk III), Model G (Auster Mk IV) and Model J (Auster Mk V).

Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) Ltd., Britannia Works, Thurmaston, Leicester.

One 130-horsepower Lycoming O-290-3.

Span, 36 feet. Length, 22 feet 5 inches. Height, 8 feet. Wing area, 167 square feet.

Empty, 1,100 pounds. Loaded, 1,700 pounds.

Maximum speed, 130 miles/hour at sea level. Cruising, 110 miles/hour. Range, 250-300 miles.

None carried.






WJ 374


By 1945 Auster light-cabin monoplanes had become an indispensable part of the military aviation scene. Since 1941 they had operated on all battlefronts with great success and had demonstrated their versatility as artillery spotters and light communications aircraft capable of operating from the smallest airfields. They were flown by Royal Artillery officers and serviced on the ground by RAF personnel.


For the post-war Air Observation Post squadrons the Auster AOP Mk VI was selected. The Auster Mk VI incorporated all the experience gained in the manufacture of over 1,600 wartime Austers, but substituted the de Havilland Gipsy Major for the American Lycoming engine, had a lengthened undercarriage leg and increased fuel capacity. The most striking external difference, however, was the introduction of auxiliary aerofoil flaps extending aft of the trailing edge of the wing in place of the earlier split flaps. These factors combined to reduce still further the already remarkably short take-off and landing runs. The prototype Auster AOP Mk VI (TJ 707) made its initial flight on 1 May 1945, and was shortly afterwards awarded a production contract. Manufacture of the Auster Mk VI for the RAF reached a total of 312, the last (WJ 408) being delivered on 26 March 1953.


The Auster Mk VI entered service in 1947, going to No. 657 Squadron and an Operational Training Unit at RAF Andover. Eventually the Auster Mk VI replaced earlier models with AOP squadrons in Germany and Malta, and in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. In 1949-1950 two Mk VI seaplanes took part in the RAF Antarctic Expedition.


Also supplied to the RAF were 77 dual-control trainer versions, known as the Auster T.VII. The prototype (VF 665) first flew in 1947.


Auster AOP Mk VIs of No 1903 Flight (part of No 656 Squadron) gave excellent service in the Korean War and in Malaya No. 656’s AOP Mk VIs operated against the terrorists. One AOP Mk VI (VF 626) flew nearly 3,500 hours before being retired in 1955.


Squadron Allocations


Regular AOP:

Royal Auxiliary Air Force AOP:

Nos. 651, 652, 656 and 657 Squadrons.

Nos. 661, 662, 663, 664 and 666 Squadrons.


Technical Data (Auster Mk VI)


Description :



Power Plant:





Two-seat AOP. Composite wood and metal structure, fabric covered. Maker’s designation: Model K.

Auster Aircraft Ltd., Rearsby, Leicester.

One 145-horsepower de Havilland Gipsy Major 7.

Span, 36 feet. Length, 23 feet 9 inches. Height, 8 feet 4½ inches. Wing area, (including flaps), 187 square feet.

Empty, 1,413 pounds. Loaded, 2,160 pounds.

Maximum speed, 124 miles/hour at 1,000 feet. Cruising, 108 miles/hour. Initial climb, 810 feet/minute. Service ceiling, 14,000 feet.






WZ 664


Almost a year after the last Auster AOP Mk VI for the RAF left the Auster factory a completely new design, eventually to supersede the Mk VI in the AOP Squadrons, was ready for its first flight at Rearsby airfield. This was the Auster AOP Mk IX, the first of which (WZ662) made its maiden flight on 19 March 1954.


Unlike the earlier Austers, nearly 2,000 of which were supplied to the British Army and RAF, the Auster AOP Mk IX was not developed from a civil aircraft, but was designed from the outset as a military type. More powerful than earlier Austers and employing greater wing area, with large flaps and drooping ailerons, the Auster AOP Mk IX can be used not only for Air Observation Post duties, but also for such work as casualty evacuation, cable-laying, photographic sorties and light transport. Access to the cabin, through three wide doors, is particularly easy, and there are such additional refinements as cabin temperature control and a magnificent field of view through 53 square feet of Perspex. For AOP duties pilot and observer only are carried, but provision is made for a third seat. An unusual feature is that the rear cockpit floor is rapidly detachable by removing six bolts, whereupon a new floor is substituted, carrying equipment to suit the aircraft for an alternative range of duties. Drooping ailerons assist short take-offs and landings, the runs being 110 yards and 50 yards respectively. The simple but rugged undercarriage enables landings to be made on all types of surface, from thick mud to ploughed fields, a great asset in an AOP aircraft.


The AOP Mk IX was first demonstrated at the 1954 SBAC Display, where the third production aircraft (WZ 664) appeared. At the 1955 Display, WZ 715 was flown.


Initial deliveries of the AOP Mk IX to the RAF were made early in 1955, some of the first aircraft being based at Middle Wallop. Later in 1955, Auster AOP Mk IXs commenced operations against the terrorists in Malaya with No. 656 Squadron.


Technical Data (Auster AOP Mk IX)




Power Plant:





Two/three-seat AOP or light liaison aircraft. Metal structure, metal and fabric covered.

Auster Aircraft Ltd., Rearsby, Leicester.

One 180-horsepower Blackburn Cirrus Bombadier 203.

Span, 36 feet 5 inches. Length, 23 feet 8½ inches. Height, 8 feet 5 inches. Wing area, 197½ square feet.

Empty, 1,461 pounds. Loaded, 2,130 pounds.

Maximum speed, 127 miles/hour. Cruising, 110 miles/hour. Initial climb, 930 feet/minute. Range, 246 miles. Service ceiling, 18,500 feet.







Nearly 1,700 DHC-2 Beaver light utility transports were built, the first flying in 1947. Carrying either seven passengers or freight, the Beaver has proved capable of operating in very rough, remote areas. The Beaver Mk 1 was produced in both civil and military forms, some 968 of the latter variant going to the US Army/USAF as the U-6A. Beavers have been fitted with floats and skis. A later development is the Turbo-Beaver Mk 3, which has the Pratt & Whitney radial engine replaced by a PT6A turboprop. This changes the nose shape significantly. The Mk 3 can carry 10 passengers, cruises at 252 km/hour and has a range of 1,090 km.


Technical Data (de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver Mk 1



Wing span:


One R-985 piston engine.

14.64 metres.

9.24 metres overall.








XK 773


The Skeeter AOP Mk 10 and T.11 ordered by the Army and RAF are developments of the Skeeter Mk 1 which first flew on 8 October 1948. The first military Skeeters delivered were XK 773 (illustrated) and XJ 355.


Technical Data (Saunders-Roe Skeeter AOP Mk 10)



Power Plant:




Saunders-Roe Ltd.

One 183-horsepower de Havilland Gipsy Major 30 engine.

Main rotor diameter, 32 feet. Length, 31 feet 1½ inches.

Loaded, 2,200 pounds.

Maximum speed, 101 miles/hour.




Photograph contributed by George MILLIE

XL 763


The first Skeeter AOP Mk 12 to be delivered into service at 652 Light Aircraft Squadron, Detmold, BAOR.


Saunders-Roe (Westland Division) Ltd.




SA 318C


All the helicopters in this family are basically similar and differ principally in their power-plants. The prototype were built as SE 3120’s and powered by a Salmson 9 engine; production types were designated SE 3130 and subsequently SE 313B Alouette II. Production totalled more than 900. The Astazou-powered SA 318C first flew in 1961 and when production ended in 1975 more than 350 had been built. The SA 315B Lama is an Artouste-powered version built to an Indian requirement, while the Cheetah is a licence-built version produced by HAL for the Indian Army. The Lama has been sold to operators in more than twenty countries. The version built for the Army Air Corps was the SE 3130 Alouette II powered by an Artouste gas-turbine engine.


Technical Data (Sud-Aviation SE 3130 Alouette II)



Country of origin:

Power Plant:


Sud-Aviation, le Bourget, la Courneuve, Paris.


One Artouste gas-turbine.

Rotor diameter, 36 feet 1¾ inches (11.02 metres). Length, 33 feet 8 inches (10.26 metres).



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Overhead view: SA 318C

Profile: 318B

Profile: 318C