“Prince Harry trained to be an Apache helicopter pilot here.” John Essery, a Brighton Hill resident who was on Warden Duty, told us the day of our visit to the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop. He had the unusual service record of flying helicopters in the Army Air Corps as a Major and when his service came to an end he joined the RAF as a Squadron Leader to continue his helicopter journey.
A chilly day greeted our group of twenty consisting of members of the Probus Club of Basingstoke and several wives to the museum on the edge of this airfield. RAF Middle Wallop opened in 1940 as a Fighter Command Station during the Battle of Britain, then used by the USAF and returned to the RAF after the war. In 1957 when British Army Aviation became independent of the RAF, Middle Wallop was transferred to the new Army Air Corps. It became the school of Army Aviation, to which it remains to the present day.
The museum tells the story of British Army flying from the early days of military ballooning spanning nearly 150 years of military flight to the modern Army Air Corps. The collection was started in 1946 at RAF Andover but later moved to Middle Wallop and first opened to the public in 1974. Today it houses over 32 types of aircraft, both early fixed wing and rotary, with an array of support machines and memorabilia and charts the history of military flight both at home and the many theatres of operations abroad.
Kempshott resident and Probus member retired RAF Squadron Leader Chris Perkins MVO was on hand to talk about the exhibits. Aircraft range from a First World War biplane to a Huey Cobra attack helicopter equipped with eight missiles and a Lynx helicopter that could reach 200 mph. There was the famous WW1 Sopwith Pup, with later Auster and Chipmunk fixed wing airplanes and examples of every glider from the D Day Landings including one that could carry a light tank.
On display were early rotary experiments including the Rotabuggy which was a converted Jeep with helicopter additions and an aircraft tail to aid manoeuvrability. With displays of the Victoria Cross holders, various uniforms, the evolution of the flying helmet and several field guns and support vehicles the museum even has a 1940s house with most domestic items bringing back memories to visitors.
After lunch in the Apache café we then had the privilege of a private showing of a film about the changing role of helicopter operations in today’s troublesome world.