The Army Air Corps role is to fly combat missions, provide combat support and combat service support to the UK Field Army and NATO ground forces. Its role has recently been supplemented by the formation of Joint Helicopter Command, which has integrated the RAF troop and vehicle carrying support helicopters under a single command. The AAC is organised into six Regiments (each with two or three Squadrons), one Training Regiment and a number of independent Squadrons and smaller Flights.
Originally, the Royal Flying Corps was part of the Army before it was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service
in April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force
. It would be nearly forty years later that the Army was to control its own air support again. Army flying within the RAF had experimented with the pre-war Rota autogyros and the Hoverfly II around 1946 for co-operation trials. The Army Air Corps (AAC) itself was formed on 1 Sep 1957 by the amalgamation of the ex RAF Air Observation Post (AOP) squadrons and the ex RAF Light Liaison Flights, which themselves formed when the glider units from the Second World War were disbanded.
Despite the effort in formulating, lobbying and planning the Army Air Corps, the transition from the RAF when it actually happened from 1 Sep 1957, was poorly handled. There were shortages of air and ground crew, with a drop in volunteers for secondment from other units (partly as a result of the initial effects of the end of National Service, in Apr 1957) and it took over a year before maintenance of the relatively small fleet could be assumed by the REME.
In response to a general lack of confidence in the newly formed AAC from the front line, the looming manpower crisis (brought on by a lack of secondments), and a perceived need for immediate response to air support requests, Major-General Pat Weston, instigated a 5 year programme of integration
on 11 Nov 1964, to decentralise and administer, operate and maintain light aircraft at unit level (eg 17/21 Lancers) as an Air Troop, near the front line.
strategy succeeded in providing a responsive service and boosting confidence in and awareness of, the expanded capabilities of the AAC. But it severely taxed the ability of the maintenance organisation to keep complex machines flying when widely dispersed, without the logistic benefits of having economically viable concentrations of spares and skills in a relatively few locations. By 1967 it was clear that some pulling back from full integration at lowest level was required and a re-organisation was instigated, which was largely complete by 1971 during which time Air Troops were brought under administrative control of Flights and Squadrons, units were amalgamated and assigned to support higher level field formations.
The first purpose-built helicopters (the Skeeter AOP) entered AAC service in Oct 1958 for light liaison and observation duties but their use in supporting ground forces began in anger around 1962 in Aden, Malaysia and Kenya with the Alouette II, Scout and Sioux.