On Friday 31 July, current and former Lynx aircrew gathered at AAC Middle Wallop to mark the retirement of the last Westland Lynx AH7s from service. Andy Aitchison writes for GAR.
A flypast of all six of the remaining aircraft operated by 671 Sqn AAC marked the retirement and very last flights of the AH7. The occasion also saw the graduation of the last three student pilots to qualify on the Lynx. The three pilot graduates, Captain Jordan Jones, Sergeant Etienne Coetzer & Sergeant Retief Uys, all flew in the final formation. The day also marked the 70th anniversary of the formation of 671 Sqn AAC. Guest of Honour was Jonathan Hayward, son of Sir Jack Hayward who was a founder member of 671 Sqn. The farewell was also attended by Lt Col Dawson (retd), formerly of the Rotary Wing Test Squadron and test pilot on the original Lynx AH1 program back in the 1970s.
The six aircraft lifted together and then flew past in figure ‘7’ formation, symbolically representing the Mark 7.
The Lynx AH7 is one of only two rotary types to date that have been certified to perform the famous backflip manoeuvre (the other being the Bo105). It was long the trademark manoeuvre of the AAC Lynx Display Team. As such it was entirely fitting that the final flight also featured the very last backflip by a Lynx. The aircraft which performed the manoeuvre, XZ184/B, was flown by WO1 Mick Kildea and Capt Neil Posthumus, the AAC’s award-winning 2014 display pilots.
WO1 Kilde said, “I am very proud to have been a part of the formation today. It’s a great privilege to be the final person to fly the final aerobatic flip for the British Army. The Mk7 doing the backflip today was converted from a Mk1 airframe which was the first Lynx to do a backflip so it is fitting she also did the last.”
The six aircraft then landed for the last time as they had taken off – all together. However, XZ184 also (just) managed the honour of being the last of the six aircraft to touch down for the very last time. Thus ended the long and varied service career of the most numerous variant of what has been one of the British Army’s most successful battlefield helicopters.
Lynx AH7 service history
The AH7 fleet was once 113 strong, consisting of 107 airframes converted from AH1 standard and 12 new builds.
Since entering service in 1977 (as the AH1) it quickly gained a reputation for versatility and the list of roles it has performed is a long one. The Lynx has deployed in support of UK and allied troops across the world. It has been right there at the sharp end in almost every theatre the UK armed forces have been active in. It saw extensive front line use in Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also deployed in various humanitarian missions such as Sierra Leone as well as in support of Army and Marine Commando training in Belize, Canada, USA, Europe and the Middle East.
The AH7 was not only operated by the Army Air Corp; 847 Sqn NAS has also used the type. Perhaps most importantly the aircraft has always been very highly regarded by its crews. It is known as a pilot’s aircraft – highly manoeuvrable with lots of control power. It was certainly fast too. For many years a modified Westland demonstrator held the world speed record for a rotary aircraft. Arguably the AH7 was also the best looking of the Lynx variants. It was clear from the faces of those present at Middle Wallop that the aircraft will be much missed. However, it’s not quite the end yet for all of the Army’s Lynx attack helicopter variants. A number of AH9As, which is in reality something of a Lynx/Wildcat hybrid, will continue in service until 2018.
Lynx Replacement – the AW-159
The Lynx is gradually being replaced in UK service by the Augusta Westland 159 ‘Wildcat’. A Wildcat AH1 from 652 AAC, based at RNAS Yeovilton, represented the type at the farewell event. Although the Wildcat bears a fairly strong superficial resemblance to the Lynx, and shared ancestry, only about 5% of the parts are common to the Lynx AH7s. By comparison the figure for the AH9As is more like 30%. Despite this relatively low commonality, those parts of the retired AH7s that can be recovered for the Wildcat fleet will be used.
The entire fleet of both AAC and RN variants of the Wildcat will be based at RNAS Yeovilton, providing synergies and cost savings in their operation. The Wildcat represents a step forward in terms of performance with a tougher monocoque body construction, state of the art cockpit and all new rotor head design.
The author would like to thanks Kerry Randall, Mark Radbourne and Rich Misselbrook.