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Army Air Corps: The facts

The British Army Air Corps provides air support to ground forces. It is the only flying arm of the British Army. It is the smallest of the three combat arms that make up the modern British Army, the other two being infantry and the Royal Armoured Corps. Yet, the role that it performs is vital. To find out more, read on.

Early history

The first army aircraft used by the British Army were balloons during the Boer War. First used in 1878, they enabled the army to see more of the battlefield than ever before and helped to remove the need for horse riders to keep generals informed of the battle. The balloons were fine, until it was a windy day, then they could not be controlled so easily. The British turned to Mr Samuel Cody from Iowa who developed the Cody War Kite. The Royal Engineers Regiment ran both the balloon and kite sections of the British army.

Royal Flying Corps

Many people believe that this wasn't founded until the outbreak of World War One, whereas, it was actually formed two years before the outbreak of war, in 1912. Cody had built himself an air plane and many British army officers had them too. So, on 13 May 1912, it was decided to amalgamate the balloon, kite and army planes to form the Royal Flying Corps. Following the war, it was decided to move the army pilots into the newly formed Royal Air Force.

World War Two

By the late thirties, it was apparent to most that another war was on its way and the army wanted its air support back. The Air Force had dramatically reduced in size during peacetime and so the Royal Artillery asked for permission to form its own air support unit. This was denied but it was agreed that the RAF and Army would work closely together in Air Observation Post Squadrons. Then, there came another problem. Gliders were needed to invade mainland Europe for Operation Overlord. There just weren't enough planes to carry all the parachutists needed. The Glider Pilot Regiment was formed to train up these glider pilots. In 1942, the Army Air Corps was born to look after these two new airborne divisions.

The arrival of the helicopters

Following the successful use of helicopters by US army aviation in the Korean War, it was decided to look into the use of helicopters by the army air corps. Today, a British army helicopter pilot will fly one of six different helicopters or a fixed wing plane. Males and females can apply and both officers and non-commissioned officers can fly. For a complete history of the army air corps, visit their air museum and flying home at Middle Wallop.

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