Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the greatest pleasure for me to join you here at Salisbury Cathedral, to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the formation of the Army Air Corps and to present the Corps with its new Guidon on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen.
It is twenty-four years now since I presented your first Guidon in a rather splendid flying parade at Middle Wallop. Over 600 soldiers were flown, wave after wave, onto the parade I subsequently learned that in those days the Army Air Corps had more helicopters than the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force combined and the Parade Commander confessed to me afterwards that he had completely lost his voice two days before. However, I discovered that he had been taken in hand by the Corps RSM and made to gargle and drink half a pint of port.
It is also ten years since we last gathered to mark the Golden Jubilee in the shadow of this magnificent Cathedral. I am told that in 1990 the spire was climbed at night by several errant Army Air Corps subalterns, who were subsequently arrested and suitably disciplined. One of them, nevertheless, recently retired as a Brigadier!
In the intervening period, Army Aviation has evolved continuously and has played a vital role in many of the key operations world-wide. The campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the decisive contribution that soldiers in the air can make to the outcome of the Land/Air battle. These recent exploits have furthered the reputation of the Corps, built up over 60 years of operating around the Globe.
The introduction of the Apache in 2004 was a quantum leap in capability, while the Corps has also maintained its traditional roles of reconnaissance, command and control, not to mention specialist Aviation tasks. The addition of the Wildcat helicopter has added state of the art reconnaissance capability - what Royal Engineers were trying to do from balloons in the 19th Century…
Army Aviation officers and soldiers remain amongst the best. Our aircrew continue at high readiness for operations across the World. REME technicians and RLC personnel strive for the highest levels of aircraft availability - with ourgroundcrew providing the critical re-arming, refuelling and communications capabilities.
I am acutely aware, however, that none of this is possible without the vital understanding of your families, to whom I can only offer my most heartfelt admiration and gratitude. As the father of a former Army Air Corps pilot myself, I am very much aware of the mixed emotions of pride and concern involved in your children embarking on helicopter training and operations. I have no doubt that it is the unfaltering support, provided by those at home, that allows our soldiers to manage so well when the going gets tough.
Flying should indeed be challenging – but also fun. I am delighted to hear that the Corps continues to play hard as well as to deliver on operations. This 60th year has witnessed expeditions to New Zealand, Nepal, Norway and the Andes. Our sportsmen have competed in many disciplines, including two officers rowing the Atlantic. Major Tim Peake completed six months in space last year - and even managed to talk live via someone’s mobile phone to the officers attending the annual dinner at Middle Wallop, not to mention running the London Marathon for my Prince's Trust, though several hundred miles above the Earth!
Ladies and Gentlemen, with an eye to the future, I am sure that the Corps will meet the demands of Defence – whatever and wherever these might be. Exciting new equipment - and the continuing ability to attract the brightest and the best - place the Army Air Corps in a particularly strong position within the United Kingdom’s Order of Battle. As your proud Colonel–in-Chief, I am confident that this will continue for the next 60 years!