The last of ten Griffin HT1 and 22 Squirrel HT1 helicopters left RAF Shawbury, Shropshire for onward disposal by their owners Cobham on March 28, 2018. The departure marked the first time in over two decades that either of the types assigned to the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) fleet was absent from the airfield.
The UK MoD awarded a 15-year contract to FBS Ltd, a joint venture between Flight Refuelling Aviation, Bristow Helicopters and Serco to provide helicopters and services for the DHFS School at Shawbury in October 1996. This arrangement was followed in 2012 by the award to Cobham of a £193 million fouryear contract to provide helicopter flying training at RAF Shawbury, RAF Valley and AAC Middle Wallop, as well as support services at Shawbury and Middle Wallop. With the introduction of the new Rotary Wing Training Programme as part of the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) on April 1, 2018, the helicopters used by DHFS were no longer required and were marked for disposal.
Of 25 Squirrel HT1s delivered to Shawbury from 1997, three have been lost in accidents and one of the 11 Griffins was lost when it burned out on a Welsh mountain on August 9, 2016. Eight of the ten surviving Griffins were flown to Bournemouth Airport, Dorset, for storage and sale by Cobham in March 2018, while the other two went to Newquay Airport, Cornwall, for use by the Cobham Helicopter Academy, as have at least six Squirrels. Similarly, most of the former Shawburybased Squirrels left for storage at Bournemouth in March 2018, though a couple reverted to their former civil registrations as early as November 2017. The first to leave, ZJ260 (c/n 2985), had been delivered to Shawbury on June 26, 1997. It reverted to its former registration G-BXGB on November 14, 2017, and then on January 19, 2018, it was registered to a leasing company incorporated in Delaware in the United States as N119CA.
At Middle Wallop, a mix of ten Squirrel HT1s the HT2s previously flown by the Army Air Corps’ 668 and 670 Squadrons were also ferried to Bournemouth Airport in March.
The Squirrels and Griffins are being replaced by 29 Airbus Helicopters H135s and three H145s, designated Juno HT1s and Jupiter HT1s respectively. Under a new contract awarded to a joint venture between Babcock and Lockheed Martin Ascent, Navy, Army and Air Force aircrew will continue to conduct their basic and advanced rotary training at Shawbury and Middle Wallop. Crews selected for training in mountain and maritime helicopter operations will go to RAF Valley on Anglesey, where the three Jupiters have been based since mid-2017. Jerry Gunner