Middle Wallop

Middle Wallop is a British Army base near the Hampshire village of Middle Wallop. The base hosts 2 and 7 Regiments Army Air Corps (AAC) under the umbrella of the Army Aviation Centre.

The largest grass airfield in England, it formally became the property of the Air Ministry on 12 September 1938 when a Clerk of Works from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works arrived to assume his new post. The site was cleared, resulting in the loss of farms and some small dwellings. Work on the airfield started in November 1939 after eventually finding a water source for the project and its inhabitants, which had proved difficult. Top soil was removed revealing acres of white chalk and work continued through the winter weather, which had to be halted for ten days due to a severe frost.

World War II

The base was opened as RAF Middle Wallop, a training school for new pilots in 1940. It was originally intended for bomber use, however with the Battle of Britain being fought, 609 Squadron flying the Supermarine Spitfire, and 238 Squadron RAF flying the Hawker Hurricane were moved to Middle Wallop as part of 10 Group RAF Fighter Command.

In September 1940 604 Squadron, a specialist night fighter unit, received the Bristol Beaufighter. As one of the few Squadrons thus equipped, 604 Squadron helped provide night time defence over the UK during the Blitz from late 1940 until mid-May 1941.

Preparations for the invasion of Europe led to the transfer of Middle Wallop in December 1943 to the United States Army Air Force. Middle Wallop was then used for tactical reconnaissance units, until they moved to advanced landing grounds in France in July 1944.

In February 1945 Middle Wallop assumed the name of HMS Flycatcher, which was a Royal Navy unit. HMS Flycatcher became one of a series of Mobile Naval Air Operations Bases (MONABS), which were formed for service in the Far East.

With the end of hostilities in 1945, leading to the abandonment of further operational activities, the Station was returned to Fighter Command on 10 April 1946.

After the war

Following the end of the Second World War Middle Wallop became the Headquarters for the newly formed Southern Sector.

Between September 1947 to January 1948 an experimental steel mat runway was laid on the airfield. This proved to be unsuccessful due to damage by large aircraft and Middle Wallop reverted back to a grass airfield, as it still is today. In January 1948, 657 Air Observation Post Squadron RAF and 227 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) RAF, both located at RAF Andover, moved to the Station with their Auster aircraft. As a result Middle Wallop becoming the training centre for Royal Artillery Air Observation Post Pilots and Observers.

On 13 August 1948 a small but significant air display took place with aircraft including the Heston JC6 and Auster M (both built to Air Ministry specification A2/45), and several new helicopters.

With Air Operations flying remaining with the RAF, 227 OCU RAF became the Air Operations School in May 1950 and subsequently resulted in all Air Operations flying training being centralised at Middle Wallop in the Elementary Flight of the School. The premise for a new Army Air Corps was already underway, with the establishment of light liaison courses for soldier pilots and for officers other than gunners.

The modern day

As flying training progressed, Middle Wallop seemed an ideal place for a training centre as its location was so close to Salisbury Plain and its extensive training area. Helicopters were seen to be the choice of the future as they could be operated alongside the rest of the army. On 1 September 1957 the Light Aircraft School became the Army Air Corps Centre – exactly forty five years after the Royal Flying Corps was formed from two companies of the Air Battalion Royal Engineers in 1911. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) assumed engineering responsibility for the new Corps.

Since 1957, a large number of different fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft have been based at Middle Wallop. In its 80th year, the base remains home to the Aerospatiale Squirrel, Westland Lynx, Gazelle, and Apache helicopters, and the Grob Tutors of the Army Grading Flight. Its history is represented by the Army Historic Aircraft Flight, who are also based on the airfield.