On the 1st February 2015 five aircraft of the Army Historic Aircraft Flight were gifted and formally handed over to the Historic Aircraft Flight Trust and will remain based at their current location, AAC Middle Wallop in Hampshire. The future of the aircraft looks promising, as Duncan Monk reports.
Formed initially in 1980, and in their current guise since March 1990, the Army Historic Aircraft Flight (AHAF) have been allowed to maintain one example of each aircraft operated since the Army Air Corps (AAC) inception in 1957, in order to preserve the AAC’s aviation heritage.
The aircraft were financially supported partly by the Ministry of Defence, and partly by donations and income from air displays undertaken. Although the AHAF was administered by its own charitable company, MoD funding was withdrawn and the flight was put into a state of ‘suspended animation’. To ensure the aircraft remain airworthy and financially sound, five of the aircraft (Beaver, Auster, Alouette, Sioux and Scout) have been gifted to the new Historic Aircraft Flight Trust (HAFT) and registrations transferred to the civil register, which will in turn help reduce maintenance servicing times and costs.
The flight comprises of six flying aircraft (the five previously mentioned plus a Chipmunk T10), and has recently been expanded to include two static examples:
- WD325 – De Havilland Chipmunk T10
- XP820 – De Havilland Beaver AL Mk1 (G-CICP)
- XR244 – Auster AOP Mk9 (G-CICR)
- XR379 – Sud Aviation Alouette II (G-CICS)
- XT131 – Agusta-Bell Sioux AH Mk1 (G-CICN)
- XT626 – Westland Scout AH Mk1 (G-CIBW)
- XL812 – Saunders Roe Skeeter AOP Mk12 (G-SARO)
- EM820 – De Havilland Tiger Moth DH82A (G-ANBY)
The Westland Scout was transferred to the civil register in October 2013, with the remaining flying assets transferred to civil registrations in November 2013. The exception is the Chipmunk T10, which remains on the MOD register to provide tailwheel training and currency to HAFT pilots. The aircraft is on an open ended loan to the Royal Navy Historic Flight (RNHF), but is shared between both the HAFT and the RNHF. One condition of the loan is that the Chipmunk remains marked as ‘Army’ so there will be no Fly Navy appearing on it!
Skeeter XL812 (G-SARO) was grounded in 2007 by the CAA (along with all Skeeters) due to issues with main rotor blade spar corrosion and time expired components. It is still available to be transported as a ground static item but, due to restrictions on trailer widths, the trailer would have to be loaded on to a lorry transporter which makes it financially unviable. Plans are in place to create a modified trailer so it can once again be seen by the public.
The De Havilland Tiger Moth EM820 that belonged to the Assault Glider Trust (AGT) has now been acquired by the HAFT. The aircraft resided at RAF Shawbury along with a CG4-A Waco Glider, Horsa Glider replica and a Dakota until 2014. The hangar and space that AGT used was needed by the MoD, as it is allegedly going to be used for storing early tranche RAF Typhoons, so the aircraft have been moved to pastures new. The Gliders have gone into storage at RAF Cosford, awaiting space in the RAF Museum and the Dakota to Dakotair at North Weald where it will be brought back to flying condition.
The Tiger Moth will also be brought back to flying condition by the HAFT, despite AGT stating that it would not be flown because it is a rare original survivor and should not be risked. EM820 was one of 220 built by Morris Motors at Cowley in 1943, and delivered in the same year to 21 Elementary Flying Training School (21 EFTS) at RAF Booker near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. It was damaged in a landing incident in April 1944, and although it was sent for repair, the aircraft never flew again and it was subsequently sold by the RAF in 1953. Given the civil registration G-ANBY, the aircraft was never converted for civilian operation, and has remained grounded since.
It is within the spacious Hangar 3 at AAC Middle Wallop that the HAFT reside, taking up around one third of the available space. With the Chipmunk currently located at RNAS Yeovilton, the remaining aircraft, bar the Alouette which resides in Hangar 4, are maintained by two full time Cobham engineers.
The Sud Aviation Alouette sits covered up in a corner of Hangar 4, as it requires some in depth maintenance in order to return to airworthy condition, not to mention a substantial injection of cash. The engine, transmission and gearbox all need replacing and, whilst the parts are readily available, it is the cost of the items which is prohibiting the process with the cost estimated at somewhere between £80,000 and £100,000! The HAFT are keenly aware of this significant cost, and to that end if any company or persons are interested in sponsorship they should contact George Bacon at HAFT.
The remaining aircraft – Sioux, Scout, Beaver and Auster – will continue to be flown by Army Qualified Pilots on a voluntary basis. The four aircraft are already regularly ground and taxi run, and their return to flight later this year is eagerly anticipated. It is doubtful that a flying display will be able to be put in place for this season, but the aircraft should be available as static exhibits at that stage.
At present, only the Siuox and Scout are in a position to be ran and both can occasionally be seen ground running at Middle Wallop as part of the maintenance program to ensure that oils run through the system and the no leaks have developed. The aircraft themselves are restricted to 50 hours a year with servicing taking place after that with major servicing every 6 years.
With the short term future looking brighter for the Army historic aircraft, attention is turning to the long game and both HAFT and the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop have some interesting plans in place. Although the aircraft are currently hangared within the AAC site at Middle Wallop, the future of the base post-2020 is not guaranteed. A campaign to raise £5.8 million will be launched in order to build a third hangar at the Museum Of Army Flying, enabling all of the HAFT aircraft to have a secure future with independent hangarage shared with the museum if (and it is a big if) AAC Middle Wallop were to close.
The looming out of service date for the Lynx AH7 – currently stated as July of 2015 – means thoughts turn to whether an example could be acquired so that the HAFT ethos of keeping one flying example of each AAC aircraft in flying condition will continue. AeroResource put the question to HAFT trustee George Bacon, who replied “the running costs of the Lynx and cost of spares and maintenance regime would prohibit us ever having a flying example within the flight”. Although this is sad news, even if inevitable, George did however state that in 2018, when the AAC plan to retire the Gazelle, they already had plans to acquire two examples and that the frames had already been identified.
The airshow display circuit has certainly missed seeing the AAC historic aircraft over the last couple of years and now, with the aircraft on the civil register and a new trust in place, the future looks very secure for these valuable, historic and rare aircraft. The recent addition of the DH Tiger Moth and it’s planned return to flight, coupled with the possibility of two Gazelles in 2018 and the new hangarage plans mean things are really going forward in a positive and exciting manner.
AeroResource would like to thank George Bacon, The Museum of Army Flying and the maintainers for their time in producing this article.