From 1993: The Army Air Corps

AAC Gazelle AH1

The announcement came in late 1991 that Wattisham was to become an Army Air Corps station called Wattisham Airfield housing a large consignment of helicopters. Building work took place at a phenomenal rate, new accommodation, three huge hangars, and the removal of the famous Q-sheds being the main visual changes, with a new 12-foot chain-link fence being placed around the whole airfield.

AAC Lynx AH7

Established on the airfield in the summer of 1993, the Army Air Corps presence was brought about by the relocation from Germany of 3 and 4 Regiments, the caretakers of some forty Lynx AH7 and AH9 helicopters and about 20 Gazelle AH1s. All came under the banner of the 24th Air-mobile Brigade with its Headquarters at Colchester Garrison. Also in residence is 7 Battalion REME, the Army’s second-line repair unit for all helicopters and for which new facilities have been built on the old cross-runway at the western end of the airfield.

Drastic changes took place 1 September 1999 with the formation of a new unit within the Army’s 4th Division to be known as 16th Air Brigade consisting of the amalgamated brigades of 24 Airmobile and the 5th Airborne. With the TOW missile-equipped Lynx getting long in the tooth, the Brigade was re-equipped with the Apache AH1, arguably the best attack helicopter in the world at the time.

AAC Apache AH1

It was January 2005 when the first operational Apache arrived and deliveries at first were delayed by a shortage of crews, but the Lynx and Gazelle soon disappeared, although not before 663 Sqn had deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Telic in 2003.

2007 saw the Apache crews of 3 Regiment deployed to Afghanistan, the Dishforth Apache units replaced the Gazelles and Lynx units during the year so, apart from those assigned to the Training Unit at Middle Wallop, all the Army Air Corps were based at Wattisham. With these changes in place and with 7 Battalion REME now responsible for the maintenance of the entire Apache fleet the future of Wattisham seemed assured. However, there is always the next “Financial Review.”

Apache weapons

In April 2020 the Army’s 1st Aviation Brigade was formed, taking control of Apache and Wildcat operations. As the Apache fleet aged, a plan was put in place to replace the AH1 model for a newer model based on the latest US version – the AH-64E. The first few are now at Wattisham although not for service until 2022.

Apache landing on runway 23