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CFS Helicopters

Rotary wing aircraft first entered the field of British military aviation in 1935, when the RAF bought six C30 Autogiros for the RAF School of Army co-operation. A further five C40s were purchased in 1939 and were given the collective name of Rota. Their primary task was the calibration of ground units during the development of radar, prior to the outbreak of the WW II. The Autogiro was the brainchild of the Spanish designer Juan de la Cierva, however, it was soon superseded by the more versatile helicopter developed by Igor Sikorsky. Sikorsky's first production helicopter was the YR-4 which entered service with the RAF in 1944 as the Hoverfly . A training school was set up at Hanworth that also happened to be the site of the old Autogiro training school. The R-4s, however, were quite underpowered and in 1945 the RAF took delivery of the R-6 Hoverfly II, essentially an R-4 with an upgraded engine.

The Malayan emergency in the early 1950s proved the worth of the helicopter , particularly in the role of casualty evacuation. As a result, in 1953 Flying Training Command proposed the establishment of a Helicopter Technique study, set up under the auspices of CFS. This led to the formation of the CFS Helicopter Development Unit (HDU) at Middle Wallop in May 1954 under the command of Flt Lt J R Dowling, a former veteran of the Malaysian casualty flight. Equipped with 3 Dragonflys, the unit was tasked to evaluate instructional techniques and procedures. The HDU's first task, however, was to support HRH Princess Margaret on a nine-day tour of Germany. Shortly after returning from Germany the unit moved to South Cerney alongside the CFS Basic Flying School. The Treasury's refusal to buy communications helicopters meant that the CFS Instructional Development flight was spending much of its time responding to high priority bids for VIP transport, particularly from the Royal Family. Rather than halting all development flying, 2 Whirlwind helicopters were acquired and allocated to the VIP transport role, so establishing the rotary element of the then Royal Flight, which became No 32 (The Royal) Squadron.

HQ CFS thought it important to maintain the orthodoxy of the instructor category system, and as a result all the early prospective helicopter instructors (QHI) were turned into QFIs on the Piston Provost first, if they were not QFIs already. Once free of the additional Royal and VIP tasking, CFS(H) made good progress, using QFIs borrowed from the Provost basic course to experiment with different ways of teaching helicopter pilot skills. The experience of these CFS instructors (helicopter ab-initio) was invaluable in terms of critical assessment of alternative methods and techniques, in producing an initial training syllabus for fixed wing pilots. By the August of 1954 the training sequence to 'First Solo' was complete and the first course was sent through. The 'guinea pigs' consisted of the then CFS Commandant, Air Cdre GJC Paul , his personal assistant, Flt Lt K V Panter, the Station Commander of RAF South Cerney and the OC CFS Examining Wing to name a few. Some were so enthused with the world of helicopters that they elected to stay and enjoyed a rewarding rotary wing career. Towards the end of 1954 the training pattern was established and ready to take the first course of pilots, who would otherwise have been processed through the 50 hour contract course at Westland Aircraft Ltd. In early 1955 Flt Lt Shafe was one of the first to graduate from the new 50 hour course on Dragonflys and the subsequent ten hour conversion on Sycamores. Whirlwinds were later used alongside Sycamores for the study of instructional technique, as well as for pilot and QHI conversion. One unusual characteristic of the Sycamore was its central collective; the QHI was expected to be able to fly it from the left hand seat, something even today's helicopter pilots would find daunting, if not impossible.

CFS(H) Sqn was already training an increased proportion of operational pilots as a by-product of its development of instructional and standardisation techniques. In 1957 the civilian contracts ceased altogether. The unit became responsible for RAF and Army pilot training, as well as QHI and helicopter standardisation for all three services.The requirement to be able to land successfully with an engine failure had been evident since the first helicopter were developed. The helicopter had the advantage of a collective pitch control that allowed the employment of rotor momentum to cushion the touchdown. Autorotation was practised by keeping the engine idling and so disengaged from the rotors. However, the linkage between the collective lever and the throttle meant the lever could not be raised to cushion the touchdown without violently re-engaging the engine, with possible catastrophic results. Voluntarily dispensing with the engine in order to practise an 'engine off landing' (EOL) seemed wantonly dangerous, especially in view of the lack of experimental aircraft. CFS(H) in the early 1950s carried out a thorough practical study of EOLs and in April 1955 CFS(H) was teaching the whole sequence of an EOL from any combination of height and speed.

Another boundary was broken in September 1956 when a Sycamore performed after dark, each night for a week at the Woolwich Tattoo. The Army and Navy had declined to take on the task. This event proved that night flying was possible and potentially very useful, although regular night flying in an official capacity did not exist until 1959, when formal training at night and on instruments began. These were just 2 more feathers in the cap of CFS(H) as between 1955-56 the Unit established itself as the central authority for training and pure flying techniques on the helicopter. In October 1955 CFS(H) hosted the first Helicopter Instructional Technique Conference, attended by representatives of HQ 23 Group, Flying Training Command, the Army, the Navy and civilian firms.

May 1957 saw the basic Piston Provost part of CFS move to Little Rissington, the main CFS base. CFS(H) had now become a squadron in its own right as opposed to a unit, and remained at South Cerney. By the end of 1957, the CFS Exam Wing was disbanded and CFS(H) was able to stand on its own in the examination role. The following 4 years were reasonably quiet and CFS(H) was able to continue with its main task of training pilots and instructors. On the side, CFS(H) took every opportunity to conduct Staff Officer Familiarisation coursers; informal courses designed to educate senior officers in the advantages of rotary wing aviation. CFS(H) was well aware of the damage that ignorance at senior levels could cause. The central collective of the Sycamore and the Ministry's refusal to do anything about it, served as a constant reminder.

In August 1961, the CFS(H) Squadron moved from South Cerney to RAF Ternhill in Shropshire as part of an expansion programme and became a wing with 2 squadrons. One was the training squadron with basic and advanced phases for both pilot and QHI training, and the other the Standards squadron responsible for QHI re-categorisations and standards for all helicopter units across the three Services. By the first quarter of 1962 the expansion was complete. The training squadron was split into 2 separate squadrons, 1 Squadron for basic pilot / QHI training and 2 Squadron for advanced pilot / QHI training. Standards became 3 Squadron. The inventory of CFS(H) during the first half of 1961 was fourteen aircraft, 2 Dragonflys, 2 Whirlwinds (Mk2 and 4), 8 Sycamores and 2 Skeeters (T11 and T12). In November 1961, CFS(H) took delivery of the first turbine engined helicopter, the Whirlwind Mk10.

By 1965 the demand for Sycamore pilots had fallen; with its central collective and its tendency to roll to port on take-off, the aircraft was not popular and there was considerable pressure at CFS(H) to replace with the Sioux . During May to August 1966 CFS(H) got its wish and the Sioux took over the basic role , with the Whirlwind being utilised in the advanced phase. In February 1968 CFS(H)'s inventory consisted of 10 Sioux and 16 Whirlwinds. The Sioux was eventually phased out in December 1973 and straight through training was conducted with the Whirlwind. Number 138 Basic Course was the last course to use the Sioux. In October 1972, the 2 squadrons at Ternhill carrying out both pilot and QHI training were re-organised. Number 1 Sqn now dealt with pilot training, having a basic and advanced flight, whilst QHI training was placed in the hands of the new CFS(H) Sqn, again with 2 flights, a basic and advanced. July 1973 saw the arrival at CFS(H) Sqn of yet another aircraft type, the Gazelle (SA340) the product of part of an Anglo-French deal involving the Puma. The Gazelle gave great service to the Squadron before being withdrawn from service in 1997 to be replaced by the Squirrel (AS350B). Since 1992, Qualified Helicopter Navigator Instructors (QHNIs) have been taught on the Squadron and more recently a Qualified Helicopter Crewman Instructor Course (QHCI) has been introduced. Both courses are primarily for the RAF. QHNI flying is carried out in the Squirrel whilst the QHCI flying is done on the Griffin (Bell 412) which replaced the Wessex in 1997.

The present day CFS(H) Squadron runs 5 courses a year with approximately 12 pilots, 2 navigators and 2 crewmen on each course. The pilots consist mostly of an even mixture of RAF, Royal Navy, Army and foreign Service pilots. The newly graduated instructors are awarded a B2 category, a probationary grade which should be upgraded to B1 after some 6-9 months of practical instruction on their respective units. Unlike CFS fixed wing squadrons, where instructors are taught on the aircraft on which they will eventually instruct, CFS(H) graduates are as likely to find themselves teaching basic students as they are teaching advanced exercises on a front line operational squadron. CFS(H) Sqn is therefore unique in teaching a student 'how to teach' rather than 'what to teach'. The Officer Commanding is always a RAF Squadron Leader, with the remainder of the staff taken from the 3 Services. There are currently 3 RN, 3 Army and 6 RAF QHIs, one RAF QHNI and 2 RAF QHCIs on strength. All instructors have completed at least one instructional tour, hold at least an A2 instructional category and have been selected by the Commandant CFS for their ability to give best guidance on the art of helicopter flying instruction. The primary aim of CFS(H) Sqn is to ensure that all helicopter aircrew across the Services, and in many cases across the waters, are taught in the most professional and thorough manner possible. In its relatively short but distinguished history CFS(H) Sqn has earned itself a world wide reputation for dedication, professionalism and excellence. This information is provided by CFS(H) www.shawbury.raf.mod.uk