As part of an ongoing development of interoperability between the UK and French armed forces, the Army Air Corps invited a contingent of French Helicopters to AAC Middle Wallop.
2012 saw significant progress in the development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), the Exchange Officer programme, bilateral exercises, communications and information systems (CIS) interoperability and equipment co-operation. Exercise CORSICAN LION in October was the year’s successful bilateral event and highlighted the significant level of interoperability that has developed between the UK and French armed forces since the signing of the Lancaster House Treaty in 2010. The UK and France have worked together in both Libya and Mali.
As part of the MOD initiative to increase UK military cooperation with the UK's French counterparts, the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop hosted a contingent from the French 3rd Combat Helicopter Regiment (ALAT)(French Army Air Corps) to visit for the week 15-19 April13. The visit provided the opportunity to exchange ideas, tactical knowledge and operational experience. During their visit, the French aircraft conducted UK airspace familiarisation flying in order to grasp a better understanding of the UK Low Flying System and its associated regulations as well as undertaking navigation training around southern England and Wales. This was then reinforced by a week of tactical support flying, in a realistic tactical environment on Exercise Joint Warrior in Scotland/Northern England.
On Monday 15th April, six Gazelles and a Puma made the hop across the channel from Etain air base in Northern France to Middle wallop to begin their week long detachment.
The six Aérospatiale SA342M Gazelles of the 3rd Combat Helicopter Regiment were; 3546/GJF, 3863/GAM, 3947/GAS, 4166/GJZ, 4189/GCN and 4198/GCQ.
Without doubt the star of the show was the Puma they brought with them as support. This Aérospatiale SA330B was 1093/DCG in it’s rare sand scheme from it’s work in Djibouti, Africa.
Djibouti was obtained as a colony by France in 1862 and officially controlled the country until it received independence in 1977. France continues to provide continued security and economic assistance from it’s forward operating base in the country.
Tuesday 16th April saw all six Gazelles and the Puma route to RAF Shawbury on a Navigation exercise via Exeter. This took them low level (500ft AGL) along the south coast past Dawlish to Exeter then over the Wye Valley up to Shawbury for another fuel stop.
After a days rest on Wednesday, Thursday the 18th saw them depart with AAC Squirrel ZJ253 showing them the way as BALDRICK formation. The formation flew over Bagshot, Richmond Park Barnes Bridge, along the line of the River Thames to the Isle of Dogs, then departing London up the Lee Valley over flying the Olympic Park, finishing at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford near Cambridge. After a fuel stop they departed in two waves without the AAC Squirrel to Shawbury for another fuel stop before returning to Middle Wallop.
23rd April saw the next wave of ALAT helicopters in the UK stopping at Middle Wallop en route to Exercise Joint Warrior. This time two SA342M Gazelles 3664/GAF and 4019/GAY along with two SA330B Puma’s 1172/DCV and 1632/DBN.
The two Pumas belonged to 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment at Pau air base in Southern France which required a massive journey north to Calais to meet the Gazelles of the 3rd Combat Helicopter Regiment from Etain. The formation set off around 1300L but found themselves quickly surrounded in 300ft visibility and very low cloud. The formation leader elected to turn back to Calais until the weather improved. The contingent eventually arrived at Middle Wallop at around 1830L where they night stopped before continuing to Carlisle via another weather divert to East Midlands…