BRITISH ARMY officials announced details yesterday, January 5, of its plans for final retirement of the AgustaWestland Lynx from Army Air Corps (AAC) service. Five of the last remaining Lynx AH9As, operated by 657 Squadron as part of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, will perform a final farewell flight on Tuesday, January 16, around various locations that have been associated with the type. In the event of poor weather, the sortie will be rescheduled for January 23.
The commemorative tour will depart from Odiham at 0900hrs on tJanuary 16, routing via Middle Wallop, Hampshire; Upavon, Wiltshire; Wareham, Dorset; Yeovilton, Somerset; Bristol, Avon; St Athan, West Glamorgan, Wales; Leominster, Herefordshire; Shawbury, Shropshire; Tilton-on-the-Hill, Leciestershire; Oakington, Cambridgeshire; Duxford, Cambridgeshire; and Wattisham, Suffolk. The final segment of the flight will involve an ‘air procession’ in vic formation along the length of the River Thames in Central London before returning to land back at Odiham.
Of the above locations, in most cases their connection to the Lynx is fairly evident, an exception being Tilton-on-the-Hill. The significance of this is that it is the location of a memorial dedicated to the memory of three of the four crew on board AAC/9 Regiment Lynx AH7 XZ199 who were killed when it crashed on a hill just outside this small Leicestershire village on May 18, 1999.
The Lynx battlefield utility helicopter originally entered AAC service in 1978, but is now being superseded by the more advanced Wildcat AH1. The latest major variant was the Lynx AH9, 24 of which entered service from 1991, comprising 16 new-build airframes and eight converted from earlier AH7 variants. The AH9 swapped skids for a wheeled tricycle undercarriage and a further upgraded gearbox. After two attrition losses, the 22 survivors were further upgraded to AH9A standard with new, more powerful LHTEC CTS800-4N engines, improving performance, particularly in the hot-and-high conditions of Afghanistan.
One of the AH9As, ZF540, was lost in a crash in Afghanistan on April 26, 2014, which killed all five on board. Many of the others have already been retired over the last year or so and been stripped for spares by the Multi-Platform Support Unit (MPSU) at AAC Middle Wallop before disposal. The survivors all operate with 657 Squadron, which will also relinquish the type after the farewell sortie and it will finally be decommissioned from AAC service.
Although there had been plans to buy eight Wildcats specifically for 658 Squadron to continue its Special Forces support role, continued cost-cutting by the Ministry of Defence has led to this option being abandoned and 658 Squadron will be disbanded. Instead, a small Special Forces Wildcat Flight will be formed and kept at ‘extreme high readiness.’ It will use two to four of these helicopters, drawn from the existing fleet and able to quickly deploy on an ad hoc basis to a remote base when required. The move is part of a major re-organisation of UK Special Forces aviation support announced last year.