RAF Aldergrove Station badge
|Active||1918 – 2009|
|Branch||Royal Air Force|
|Role||Air support to Army and PSNI activities|
|Part of||Air Command|
|Located||18 miles north-west of Belfast|
|Motto(s)||Ours to hold|
RAF Aldergrove (now named Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove) was a Royal Air Force station situated 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It adjoined Belfast International Airport, sometimes referred to simply as Aldergrove which is the name of the surrounding area. The station shared the Aldergrove runways but had its own separate facilities and helipad.
RAF Aldergrove first opened in 1918 but was not designated as an operational RAF station until 1925. Aldergrove’s location made it an important station of RAF Coastal Command in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War. From the base, long-range reconnaissance aircraft were able to patrol the Eastern Atlantic for U-boats. Some of these patrols ranged as far out as the distant islet of Rockall.
Aldergrove was designated as a dispersal airfield for the RAF's V bomber force in the 1950s and was included in a reduced list of 26 airfields in 1962. In 1968 a maintenance unit (No.23 MU) for the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in RAF service was established at Aldergrove, with 116 aircraft passing through on their way to front line service. Aldergrove was also the main servicing and reconditioning station for the English Electric Canberra from their introduction in 1951. In 1976, the station had a staff of 2,500 RAF personnel and 1,500 civilians.
No. 230 Squadron was re-deployed from Germany to RAF Aldergrove in 1992, where it operated Aérospatiale Puma HC1 helicopters until its relocation to RAF Benson in 2009.
The Army Air Corps also operated Westland Lynx and Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters as well as de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver aircraft in its joint operations with the RAF's Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (Northern Ireland); the Beaver was replaced by the Britten-Norman Islander late in 1988.
No. 18 Squadron also operated detachments of Boeing Chinook during the late 80s in support of the British Army in Northern Ireland.
Aldergrove is now home to the Joint Helicopter Force Northern Ireland (JHF(NI)), which provides Gazelle and Islander aircraft in support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and military units for Operation Helvetic, and for other operations abroad. Its current role is to support this flying.
Due to the closure of RAF Machrihanish, the base is now used annually for Air Training Corps cadets as a training camp, where cadets from Scotland and Northern Ireland Region gather for a week of fieldcraft, shooting, first aid and other activities.
Aldergrove officially ceased to be an RAF Station on 20 September 2009 when, after the annual Battle of Britain parade, the RAF ensign was lowered for the last time and the Joint Helicopter Command flag was hoisted in its place.
Units based at Aldergrove
- 5 Regiment Army Air Corps
- No. 651 Squadron AAC - Britten-Norman Defender. This squadron officially moved to RAF Aldergrove on 4 August 2008 from RAF Odiham and operated three Defender AL1s, serial numbers ZG995, ZG996 and ZG998, two Defender AL2s (ZG997 and ZH001), and a Defender T3 training variant (ZH004). Two more Defender AL2s (serial numbers ZH002 and ZH003) were scheduled to be delivered to this unit.
- No. 665 Squadron AAC - Gazelle AH.1s
- No. 1 Flight AAC - Britten-Norman Islander. Six Islander AL1s, serial numbers ZG844 to ZG848 and ZG993. A seventh Islander AL1 (serial number ZG994) was written-off a number years ago.
- PSNI Air Support Unit - Eurocopter EC 135T2 G-PNSI
- PSNI Air Support Unit - Eurocopter EC 145 G-PSNO
Notable military aircraft which have visited Aldergrove
- USAF aircraft operating in support of U.S. Presidential visits to Northern Ireland.
- RAF Vickers VC10s and Lockheed Tristars in support of the RAF and Army presence.
- Various NATO aircraft for squadron celebration, etc.
- Northern Ireland Committee of Irish Congress of Trade Unions, "The Defence Stations in Northern Ireland: The Case for Retention", March 1976
- 72 Squadron. RAF. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
- JHC Flying Station Aldergrove
- Operation HELVETIC - Joint Helicopter Force Northern Ireland (JHF(NI))
- Lowering of RAF Ensign RAF Website]
- Docherty, Tom. Ours to Hold: RAF Aldergrove at War, 1939-1945. Cowbit, Spalding, Lincolnshire, UK: Old Forge Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-906183-03-5.
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