Friday 31st July 2015 saw an historic moment for the British Army Air Corps (AAC), with the retirement of the Westland Lynx AH.7 helicopter. The Lynx has been a key asset to the AAC for just over 38 years, having first taken to the skies in June 1977 as a Lynx AH.1. Throughout the long and illustrious career of the Lynx, it has seen service in over 22 active conflicts including Operation Agricola in Kosovo, Operation Banner in Northern Island and more recently Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. It has been in service with 17 different AAC squadrons as well as being operated by numerous other users – both within the UK (including the Empire Test Pilot School/ rotary wing test and evaluation squadron) and overseas with foreign forces. Mark Empson was at AAC Middle Wallop to see the final day of the Lynx AH.7’s active flying career.
The life of the Lynx helicopter began right back in the mid 1960’s when the requirement for a helicopter to replace the ageing Westland Scout arose. From this, development of the Lynx occurred rapidly, with the first flight on March 21st 1971. It was then a further six years before the first operational Lynx went into service with the AAC, whom eventually took delivery of some 113 Lynx AH.1 examples. Little was known at this stage as to just how successful this helicopter would prove to be for the AAC. It was also during this time that the Westland’s modified G-LYNX Demonstrator broke the world speed record for a helicopter by flying at 249 miles per hour, a record to this day which has not been broken (not counting the records set by the Sikorsky X2 or Eurocopter X3, which as compound designs do not qualify for the true helicopter speed record). The Lynx proved a particularly agile and versatile helicopter for the Army Air Corps, for whom it was able to perform key roles to support the British Armed Forces. Battlefield utility, limited Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), casevac, escort as well as an anti tank role using 8 TOW missiles (a capability fitted to 60 aircraft out of the fleet) were all roles the Westland Lynx AH has performed over its 38 year service life. The Lynx was often referred to as the “Jack of all trades” because of the sheer number of roles that it was able to fulfil successfully.
The Westland Lynx also proved to be a big hit at any air show, given its ability to perform a “backflip”. This was for a while a unique manoeuvre for the Lynx, which was able to perform a backflip from the hover position. This manoeuvre can now be performed by other helicopters with Rigid or Semi-Rigid main rotor systems, such as the Bo105 and AH-64 Apache (when the Longbow radar is not equipped).
As part of the celebrations at Middle Wallop, it was only fitting that there was one final Lynx backflip. This was performed by Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) Mick Kildea and Captain Neil Posthumus.
WO1 Kildea said:
“It is a great privilege to be the final person to fly the final aerobatic backflip for the AAC. The Mk7 doing the backflip today, XZ184, was converted from a Mk1 airframe which was the first Lynx to do a backflip so it is fitting that she also did the last.”
The Lynx underwent one major upgrade programme from the AH.1 to the current Lynx . 7. This was a significant upgrade of the original Mk1 helicopter providing new, more powerful engines, uprated gear boxes, a new larger composite tail rotor and new main rotor blades – which together all offered significantly greater performance. As part of this upgrade program 107 Lynx AH.1s were converted with the Army Air Corps purchasing a further 12 new build Lynx AH.7 helicopters to supplement the fleet.
July 31st was a day of sadness but also had a number of reasons for celebration. The retirement ceremony also marked the graduation of the final three students to pass through 671 Squadron AAC, the Operational Conversion Unit for the Westland Lynx AH.7. Once all six aircraft in the flypasts had landed these three pilots (Captain Jordan Jones, Sergeant Etienne Coetzer Sergeant Retief Uys) were awarded their certificates.
Major Jon Stewart-Davis, Officer Commanding of 671 Squadron Army Air Corps, said:
“As the OC of 671 Squadron, it has been a privilege to have the honour of taking the last Lynx Mk7 students through their training. They have worked incredibly hard to get to this point; it’s a long period of training with over 200 hours of flying. For their training to culminate on the Mk7’s final flight with the students flying the aircraft, and also on the Squadrons 70th Anniversary is very special. I am very happy and proud of them and hope they have a wonderful future with the Army Air Corps.”
July 31st was also another special day as was also a day as it happened to be the 70th Anniversary for 671AAC. As part of the event 671 also invited a guest of honour, Jonathan Hayward, son of Sir Jack Hayward who was a founder member of 671 Squadron. Lieutenant Colonel Dawson (retired) also attended the event as he was formerly of the Rotary Wing Test Squadron, and a test pilot on the original Lynx AH.1 program in the 1970s.
Despite the day of sadness, many crews (both past and present) gathered for the main event of marking the Lynx AH.7 retirement. To celebrate the end of this long career, six Lynx AH.7s lifted off in unison for the last time. Once the aircraft had formed up, they conducted a flypast in the shape of the number 7. Upon completion the “tail end Charlie” aircraft at the back of the formation broke off to perform the final back flip by a Lynx AH.7 Helicopter. Closing the proceedings the six Lynx’s flew through again, breaking off to land for the final time back at AAC Middle Wallop – with XZ184, one of the original AH.1 helicopters being the last one to set its skids onto the apron.
Although the 31st of July marked the retirement of the Westland Lynx AH.7 it is clear that the AAC will still keep a strong aviation presence with the introduction of the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat AH.1, not to mention the Lynx AH.9A which is still retained in service. The Lynx AH.9 is expected to see service until 2018, at which time it will be solely replaced by the Wildcat AH.1. To mark this transition in the fleet, a single Wildcat AH.1 was also present to show off the significant advances in technology which have been made, but to also highlight the clear Lynx pedigree in this new design. The Lynx may be disappearing in name, but it’s legacy lives on in the Wildcat.
AeroResource would particularly like to thank Kerry Randall, Squadron Leader Mark Radbourne and WO2 Rich Misselbrook, whose efforts were well received to give the Westland Lynx AH.7 the send off it deserved.