His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, who is Colonel in Chief of the Army Air Corps, visited the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) for its 10th anniversary, yesterday, 3 May 2007.
The Prince met students from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, and military and civilian instructors at the School, based at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire. He also got to see a flypast of four Griffin and Eight Squirrel helicopters in a formation making the number ‘10'. These are the helicopters used by the school to train new pilots.
The 10th anniversary of the schools' opening coincided with its fleet of Squirrel helicopters notching up the milestone of 250,000 flying hours.
The DHFS is an independent unit within RAF Shawbury whose task is to provide helicopter training for the Royal Navy, Army, Royal Air Force, and some overseas countries.
Since opening in 1997 the school has used the Squirrel HT1 (Eurocopter AS3 50BB) and the Griffin HT1 (Bell 412 EP) helicopters which are provided and maintained by the resident civilian contractor, FB Heliservices Ltd, under a Private Finance Initiative:
"We find the AS350BB to be the perfect aircraft for our training missions, which range from ab-initio to tactical mission training,” said Peter Richardson, Managing Director of FB Heliservices. “Our Squirrel fleet performs an average of 25,000 flight hours per year, is reliable and easy to maintain."
At yesterday's anniversary event, the Prince of Wales met 150 students and 80 instructors from the school on the parade ground, as well as staff from FB Heliservices Ltd. Following the parade he inspected the front rank of the five flights comprising personnel from each individual DHFS training squadron.
The Prince also met families of station personnel and school children from the St Mary's Primary school, Shawbury, before entering No 4 Hangar where he cut a 10th birthday cake. He was then shown one of the Squirrel training helicopters that have helped notch up 250,000 flying hours and met the fourteen students on No 100 Course.
Command of the DHFS is rotated every two years between the three Services, as are the posts of Chief Flying Instructor and Deputy Chief Flying Instructor. Current Commandant of the DHFS, Captain Martin Westwood, Royal Navy, said:
"It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to command this outstanding organisation on its 10th anniversary. The Defence Helicopter Flying School is rightly proud of its achievements to date, recognises the value of the contributions of the many over the years who have made it work, and is justifiably confident as it faces the continuing task of training high calibre helicopter aircrew for the future while remaining the 'high ground' and exemplar model of how such flying training should most efficiently be conducted."
The DHFS comprises a Headquarters and five training squadrons, one of which, the Search and Rescue Training Unit, teaches specialist skills for rescue missions at sea and mountains using the geography around its permanent location at RAF Valley, Anglesey.
Over 10 years the DHFS has trained 2,885 students at both RAF Shawbury and RAF Valley. Sixty per cent of the instructional staff on the training squadrons come from all three Services; the remainder, who are ex-military aircrew, are provided by FB Heliservices Ltd.
DHFS students carry out an initial three weeks' academic training on the Ground Training School before commencing basic flying training on the single-engine Squirrel with No 660 Squadron, commanded by an Army major.
More advanced techniques are then taught on the Squirrel with No 705 Squadron, which is commanded by a RN lieutenant commander.
The RAF students progress to advanced training on the Griffin HT1 with No Sixty (Reserve) Squadron, commanded by a RAF squadron leader. During this phase the RAF students, pilots and rear crew, are attached for three weeks to the Search and Rescue Training Unit to carry out training in advanced techniques in this more challenging environment.