Army Air Corps
Cap Badge of the Army Air Corps.
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
TypeArmy aviation
RoleBattlefield support, reconnaissance
Size2,000 personnel
Approx. 150 aircraft[1]
Garrison/HQAAC Middle Wallop
MarchQuick: Recce Flight
Slow: Thieving Magpie
Battle honoursFalkland Islands 1982
Wadi al-Batin, Gulf 1991
Basra, Iraq 2003
Colonel-in-ChiefThe Prince of Wales
Colonel CommandantLieutenant General Sir Nicholas Borton
Tactical Recognition Flash
Aircraft flown
AttackApache AH1
Apache AH-64E V6
ReconnaissanceWildcat AH1
TrainerJupiter HT1
Juno HT1
AS365N3 Dauphin II

The Army Air Corps (AAC) is the aviation arm of the British Army, first formed in 1942 during the Second World War by grouping the various airborne units of the British Army. Today, there are eight regiments (seven Regular Army and one Reserve) of the AAC, as well as two independent flights and two independent squadrons deployed in support of British Army operations around the world. Regiments and flights are located in the United Kingdom, Kenya, and Canada. Some AAC squadrons provide the air assault elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade, through Joint Helicopter Command.


Further information: List of Army Air Corps aircraft units (United Kingdom)

First formation: 1942–1949

See also: Royal Flying Corps

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 squadrons were raised, three of which belonged to the RCAF and each performed vital duties in many theatres.[6][7][8]

In 1942, Winston Churchill announced the establishment of a new branch of army aviation, the Army Air Corps. 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 March 1944, the SAS Regiment was added to the corps.[9]

One of their most successful exploits during the war was the capture of the Caen canal and Orne river bridges by coup de main, which occurred on 6 June 1944, prior to the Normandy landings. 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 withstood numerous attempts by the Germans to re-capture the location. They were soon reinforced and relieved by soldiers from the 1 Special Service Brigade (Lord Lovat).[10] The AAC was disbanded in 1949, with the SAS regaining independent status, while the Parachute Regiment and Glider Pilot Regiment came under the umbrella of the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps.[9]

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
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.[11]

In 1958 the Saunders-Roe Skeeter 7 was introduced as the AAC's first helicopter, it was replaced by the Aérospatiale Alouette II and Westland Scout AH.1 during the early 1960s. The de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver AL.1 was introduced during the 1960s along with the Agusta/Westland Sioux AH.1 in 1964.[12]

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;[13] 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.[14]

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/H135 through the Defence Helicopter Flying School.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

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:[18][19][20][21]

Main article: NORTHAG wartime structure in 1989

War on Terror

A further boost in the Army Air Corps' capability came in the form of the Westland Apache AH.1 attack helicopter, introduced in 2004. 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.[16]

End of fixed-wing flying, 2019–2021

In April 2019, 651 Squadron personnel and aircraft, the Islander and Defender, were transferred from 5 Regiment to No. 1 Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing Royal Air Force.[22][23] 651 Squadron continued to operate the aircraft until they were retired from service on 30 June 2021.[24][25]

Current structure and deployment


The Army Air Corps adopted their first Corps Mascot – Zephyr, a bald eagle – in October 2011.[26]


The training of future Army Air Corps aircrew is delivered by the joint service UK Military Flying Training System. Elementary Flying Training was delivered at RAF Barkston Heath with 674 Squadron AAC, up until the squadron's standing down in April 2021.[27]

Training Units, Army Aviation Centre, Middle Wallop


Army Air Corps personnel on parade, 2011

The strength of the Army Air Corps is about 2,000 Regular personnel, of which 500 are officers. However, the AAC draws an additional 2,600 personnel from the Royal Logistic Corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Adjutant General Corps.[28] Therefore, total related Army Air Corps personnel is around 4,600.[29]


Further information: List of active United Kingdom military aircraft and List of aircraft of the Army Air Corps (United Kingdom)

Since 2019, the AAC solely operates rotary-wing aircraft operationally. Some fixed-wing aircraft are flown with the historic flight. The AAC uses the same designation system for aircraft as the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. The sole fixed-wing trainer is the Grob Tutor, used for Army Flying Grading.[30][27]

Circa 2023, 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[31] 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 aircraft include the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno,[32] the Westland Wildcat AH.1,[33]the Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin II, and the AgustaWestland Apache AH1[34] which will be fully replaced by the Boeing AH-64E Version 6 Apache by 2024.[35]

In May 2023, the Royal Air Force took over the helicopter support role in Brunei and thus, the Bell 212HP AH1, previously in service, was retired.[36]

In October 2023, the Gazelle helicopter was retired from service, after 49 years in the British Army.[37]

Command and units

Parts of this article (those related to Command and units. The source for the listed current structure is from 2012, and the list has not been updated after the retirement of the Bell 212 or Westland Gazelle AH.1 aircraft) need to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (January 2024)

Further information: List of Army Air Corps aircraft units (United Kingdom)

Below is the current structure of the Army Air Corps as of May 2023:[38]

Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing

Independent units

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 bySpecial Air Service British Army Order of Precedence Succeeded bySpecial Reconnaissance Regiment

See also


  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. ^ a b "Army Air Corps". National Army Museum. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  10. ^ Ambrose, Stephen E. (1994). D-Day. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1476765860..
  11. ^ Farrar-Hockley 1994, pp.179, 187–194.
  12. ^ Flack 1992, p. 75.
  13. ^ "Gazelle – British Army Website". Archived from the original on 10 April 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  14. ^ "Profile of a UK forces' mainstay." Archived 23 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine BBC News, 9 September 2004.
  15. ^ "Contractors". RAF Shawbury. Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  16. ^ a b 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.
  17. ^ "Grob G 115". Skybary. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  18. ^ "Royal Army Service Corps". British Army units 1945 on. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Army Air Corps". Helis. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  20. ^ "BAOR Order of Battle July 1989" (PDF). Louis Vieuxbill. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Aviation". Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 16 June 2017. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Hay, Air Cdre Nick (2019). Michell, Simon (ed.). "ISTAR evolution". Air & Space Power 2019 Multi-Domain Operations for the Next Generation Air Force. Essex: Global Media Partners: 75. Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  24. ^ "Farewell Islander/Defender". Scramble. Dutch Aviation Society. 11 July 2021. Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  25. ^ "British Army Retires Final Defender, Islander Aircraft". Key.Aero. Key Publishing. 12 July 2021. Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  26. ^ "Zephyr – the Army Air Corps mascot". Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 21 June 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  27. ^ a b "674 Sqn AAC – standing down". Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 5 May 2021. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  28. ^ "Adjutant General's Corps". Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  29. ^ THE ARMY AIR CORPS (AAC) Archived 1 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine,
  30. ^ "Royal Air Force Grob Tutor". Royal International Air Tattoo. Archived from the original on 19 September 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  31. ^ "RAF chief opens state-of-the-art helicopter training facilities in Shawbury".
  32. ^ "Royal Air Force". Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 10 September 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  33. ^ "Westland Wildcat". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  34. ^ "Attack Helicopter". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  35. ^ "New Apache attack helicopter enters service". British Army. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  36. ^ "Bell 212 – British Army Website". Archived from the original on 23 January 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  37. ^ Zubova, Xenia (24 October 2023). "Goodbye Gazelle: Helicopter retiring from Army Air Corps after 49 years". Forces Network. Retrieved 30 October 2023.
  38. ^ Army 2020 Archived 18 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ "The Eagle Spring 2020 edition" (PDF). The Eagle. Wattisham. 1 April 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  40. ^ Ripley, Tim (6 April 2020). "UK forms aviation brigade". IHS Janes. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  41. ^ "Army establishes its 1st Aviation Brigade". British Army. 5 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  42. ^ 1 Regiment Army Air Corps [@@1_Regt_AAC] (1 August 2021). "651 Sqn AAC moves to 1 Regt AAC" (Tweet) – via Twitter.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  43. ^ "Army 2020 Reserve Structure & Basing" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 July 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2015.


  • Farrar-Hockley, General Sir Anthony. The Army in the Air: The History of the Army Air Corps. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994. ISBN 0-7509-0617-0.
  • Flack, J. (1992). Today's British Army in Colour. BCA. ISBN 978-1854090065.
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  • Mead, Peter. Soldiers in the Air: The Development of Army Flying. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1967. OCLC 464211829
  • Parham Major General H.J. & Belfield E.M.G. Unarmed into Battle: The Story of the Air Observation Post. Warren & son, for the Air O.P. Officers' Association, Winchester, 1956. (Second edition: Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK: Picton Publishing Ltd., 1986. ISBN 978-0-948251-14-6)
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.