Helicopter mystery solved

Lynx helicopters regularly fly from Dishforth airfield. This picture shows members of 9 Regiment Army Air Corps landing at Dishforth Sports Club two years ago to visit school pupils. (S)
Lynx helicopters regularly fly from Dishforth airfield. This picture shows members of 9 Regiment Army Air Corps landing at Dishforth Sports Club two years ago to visit school pupils. (S)

The mystery of helicopters seen and heard over Ripon and surrounding villages this week has been solved after Army officials confirmed they were flying upgraded aircraft.

Residents in Ripon and surrounding villages including Markington, Littlethorpe and Bishop Monkton were left mystified by helicopters circling the area for several hours each afternoon this week – sometimes as late as 11pm.

Puzzled readers contacted the Ripon Gazette office to report the sightings, some wondering whether it was security training for the London Olympics or a police manhunt.

But when contacted, police and civilian air traffic control authorities were unable to shed light on the mystery and a spokesman for North Yorkshire Police confirmed the force’s helicopter had not been in operation in the area.

Some residents in the area used Twitter to write of their confusion over the repeated sightings of helicopters in the area.

They reported being kept awake by noise from the flights as late as 11pm on Monday evening, while others were worried that the constant helicopter presence would pose a danger to animals.

One Tweet said: “They’ve been overhead all day and night. Circling above Birkby Nab stables. Makes bringing the horses in a dangerous task.”

The reason for the helicopter activity finally emerged when Dishforth-based 9 Regiment Army Air Corps (9ACC) stepped forward to reveal it was carrying out the flights in preparation for a tour of duty overseas.

An Army spokesman said the regiment’s craft have recently been upgraded to carry more powerful engines and pilots have been training in the new Lynx Mk9A helicopters with shorter flights.

There has not been an increase in the number of helicopter flights from the base but the shorter flights has resulted in pilots staying over the Ripon and Boroughbridge area for longer, the spokesman confirmed.

But because there was no change to overall training flight-plans the base did not inform residents, he added, saying the “convert to mark” flights are set to continue for another week.

The Lynx Mk9a will be in use for the 9AAC’S overseas deployment in the summer.

They can operate all year round in the hot and high conditions on the front line in Afghanistan and provide fire support, troop transport and casualty evacuations.

As well as the more powerful T800 engine, the upgrade has fitted the Lynx with updated instruments and digital displays, a modified gearbox and a strengthened rear fuselage to manage the extra power.

Last year the regiment exercised its Freedom of Boroughbridge by marching through the town on May 13 when Regimental Colonel-in-Chief HRH The Prince of Wales awarded operational service medals.