3 Regt Army Air Corps – Wattisham Airfield 18th September 2008

On-Target reports from this much anticipated visit to Wattisham. Unanimously voted by all visitors as a huge success, the Army Air Corps (AAC) is to be congratulated for granting open photographic access to most areas of interest on Wattisham Airfield.

Fast approaching its 70th anniversary, the airfield has witnessed numerous historical events; ranging from the Royal Air Force Blenheims of 107 & 110 Sqns carrying out the first WWII bombing raids against Germany, just 29 hours after the declaration of war, to the operations of the USAAF’s 479th FG - with such famous names as Hub Zemke and Robin Olds seeing combat. During the Cold War, the RAF would scramble armed Quick Reaction Alert Lightnings, and later the F-4 Phantom from the distinctive Q-Sheds. Currently elements of 3 & 4 Regts AAC deploy to Afghanistan to support ground forces operating as a part of Operation HERRICK.

As our visit progressed it became very apparent that our AAC hosts had gone out of their way to present an informative, yet interesting and at times humorous, overview of the WAH-64D Apache and its operations from Wattisham. Operation HERRICK was discussed during a capabilities briefing, however the details are best not repeated here in too much detail. The Army Air Corps have in theatre eight Apaches, for operations in the Helmand Province, where the helicopter’s state of the art night vision systems, CCD TV target trackers, thermal imaging and radar are used to great effect against the Taliban. The helicopters also pack a powerful punch, with the 30mm cannon delivering accurate fire at a rate of 625 rounds a minute, or for when more destructive power is required there are Hellfire missiles and the CRV-7 rocket.

The Westland WAH-64 Apache AH.1 is a licence-built version of the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter. The type was selected for the British Army in July 1995 at a cost of £3.1 Billion and the first eight helicopters were built by Boeing, with the remaining 59 assembled by Westland at Yeovil (from Boeing-supplied kits). The first Boeing built helicopter was delivered in March 1999, and the first Westland built aircraft was delivered in July 2000. The 67th and final Apache was handed over in July 2004.

The Apache replaces the long serving, and less capable, Westland Lynx AH.7 anti-tank helicopter. Changes from the AH-64D version include Rolls-Royce engines and a folding blade mechanism, allowing the British version to operate from Royal Navy vessels such as HMS Ocean or the Invincible class, and possibly the amphibious assault vessels HMS Bulwark and Albion.

Co-located at Wattisham are 'B' Flight of the Royal Air Force’s 22 Sqn – the bright yellow Sea King HAR.3A Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters were not overlooked, with a presentation and a review of the Flight’s activities from Wattisham.

For the search aspect of its role, the Sea King is able to operate to precise navigational standards and is fitted with impressive systems such as satellite navigation, search radar, comprehensive avionics and a large selection of radios. For its rescue role, the aircraft is equipped with a hydraulically-operated main rescue hoist, an electrically-operated emergency rescue hoist and electrical connections suitable for powering medical equipment such as incubators. The SAR fleet of Sea Kings are fitted with a video/infrared detection pod, which is similar to the equipment used by police helicopters, to help search for casualties. All SAR crews are trained to operate using night-vision goggles over unfamiliar terrain and the standard SAR crew is made up of four members: two pilots, one of whom is the aircraft captain, a radar operator who acts as the winch operator at the rescue scene and a winchman, normally trained to paramedic standard, who will supply immediate first-aid and recovery services at the rescue site.

The military SAR service exists primarily to assist military and civilian aircrew in difficulty, although a large proportion of its work involves assisting shipping or people in distress, both on land and at sea. SAR cover for the United Kingdom is provided 24 hours a day and 365 days a year by the RAF, Royal Navy and HM Coastguard.

In many rescues the RAF Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) at RAF Kinloss, which controls all military aerial resources, works closely with the emergency services. The ARCC watches over an area extending from the Faeroes in the North, the English Channel in the South, about halfway across the Atlantic Ocean and halfway across the North Sea.

The 22 Sqn Headquarters is currently located at RMB Chivenor in Devon, which also the home of 'A' Flight. 'C' Flight operates from Valley in Angelesey.

A sincere thank you is offered to Lt Trayhurn and SSgt Wharmby for their assistance. The Group’s gratitude is also extended to all of the Wattisham Airfield personnel for their generous hospitality.




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© On Target Aviation 2008