Army Air Corps
Military flying began for the British Army in the latter half of the 19th Century. The Royal Engineers had already started utilising kites and balloons for military observation. As the early aeroplanes had begun to show military potential several of the major powers had developed air arms prior to the First World War. The Royal Flying Corps, founded in 1912, flew and fought worldwide as part of the Army until 1918 when it was combined with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Air Observation Post Squadrons
Army interest in aviation was revived during the 1930s when trials led to the formation of Air Observation Post (AOP) squadrons equipped with the Auster light aircraft flown by officers of the Royal Artillery. The squadrons were owned and operated by the RAF, on behalf of the Army, with great success in all theatres during the Second World War.
The Glider Pilot Regiment
On 21 December 1941 the first Army Air Corps was formed as part of the Airborne Forces and authorised by Royal Warrant dated 24 February 1942. The Corps consisted of three regiments; The Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR), The Parachute Regiment and the Special Air Service. The Glider Pilot Regiment provided officer and non-commissioned officer pilots to fly the troop and cargo carrying gliders which took part in all the major airborne operations including Sicily, Normandy, Arnhem and the Rhine Crossing. The glider pilots, wearing the famous maroon beret, took pride in being 'total soldiers' capable of flying themselves into battle and then fighting as formed units on the ground.
The Army Air Corps Reborn
Following the Second World War, the AOP system continued in parallel with the GPR who, having ceased to fly gliders, had retrained to fly the Auster in the light liaison role. After a few years it was decided to amalgamate the AOP and the GPR therfore on 1 September 1957 a second Army Air Corps, wearing the distinctive light blue beret, was formed.
The RAF reliquished control of the squadrons, which carried on under Army management. The helicopter was gradually introduced into service for reconnaissance and liaison tasks, although the Auster and its successors, the Beaver and Islander, carried on the fixed wing role.
The most significant development for the AAC since 1957 has been the introduction of weapons to helicopters. Early experiments with door and body-mounted machine guns led to the arming and employment of the Scout in Borneo and Aden. The fitting of SS11 anti-tank guided missiles to the Scout in 1972 enabled the AAC to join the Army's Order of Battle as a direct fire combat arm. Since its formation the AAC has taken part in all the major conflicts involving the British Army, including the deployment of a squadron equipped with Scout and Gazelle to the Falklands in 1982; a Regiment with Lynx and Gazelle to the Gulf in 1991 and aviation support in the continuing troubles in Northern Ireland since 1969.
The greatest expansion of capability was represented by the decision to procure the WAH-64D Apache attack helicopter as a leading battlefield weapons system of great power and capability. The Corps has a distinguished record to live up to - although small numerically it has unprecedented firepower and mobility and will play an increasingly important role in future operations.