AFTER SOME delay, the Army Air Corps (AAC) fixed-wing manned aerial surveillance fleet of Defenders and Islanders has been transferred to the Royal Air Force. The official transfer of the aircraft from the authority of Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) to the RAF’s No 1 Group took place on April 1. The aircraft, which are based at JHC Flying Station Aldergrove (Belfast International Airport), Northern Ireland, were operated by 5 Regiment/651 Squadron. The Squadron is now officially an RAF unit and its personnel will transition over the next few years.
The Squadron operates eight Defender AL2s and three Islander AL1s in support of UK Special Forces operations. In addition, a single Defender T3 is used as a crew training aircraft. Initially, it will operate as a joint unit until posting of personnel in and out of the unit is completed. Previously, it had been stated that a base for the aircraft had not been decided, but nothing further has been announced and at present they appear to be remaining at Aldergrove. It was also expected that an RAF squadron numberplate would be allocated, but currently the unit is still operating as 651 Squadron, but under RAF control.
As previously reported on Warnsey’s World, the move of these aircraft from the AAC to the RAF has been under consideration for some years. The decision to go ahead with the transfer was finally confirmed in Parliament on October 10, 2016, by Harriet Baldwin, then Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Defence Procurement. At that time, a timescale had not been finalised, but it was later decided to make the move on April 1, 2018. This did not then take place, the Ministry of Defence stating that this was because there were insufficient RAF personnel to operate the aircraft.