Typical duties included taking part in range shoots, dropping supplies or mail to infantry patrols, recce flights along the border, providing ‘targets’ for ship and anti-aircraft tracking radars, tracking practice torpedoes, assisting the colony police in public order duties and searching for smugglers, illicit stills or poppy cultivations, plus such one offs as counting the number of sharks and manta rays in coastal waters and flying a Public Works Department surveyor on aerial inspections of possible sites for reservoirs and roads. It was customary for 656 Squadron to provide the pilots for its independent Hong Kong cousin, usually towards the end of their Malayan tours, though normally the Flight Commander came straight from the UK.
Typhoon Wanda wreaked havoc at Shatin in 1962, destroying all the Austers and causing the Flight to move back to RAF Kai Tak. Tragically, three of the Flight’s pilots, Flight Commander, Major Peter Richardson, Captain Ian Horsley-Currie and Captain Ian Stevens were killed on 25 July 1963, when the Auster 9, XN420, crashed into a hillside. A later Board of Enquiry concluded that the probable cause had been a downdraft or sudden turbulence.
The first Sioux arrived for service with newly formed Air Troop 49 Light Regiment RA in 1965. The remaining Austers were sold to the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force in 1966. In the 1960s and 1970s Hong Kong was thriving commercially, business and associated building works were booming. The main security concern was stemming the flow of illegal immigrants across the Chinese border, while the police were greatly exercised by the desire to reduce the level of smuggling.
Captain John Charteris was OC 3rd Gurkha Air Platoon at Sek Kong in 1966-67 and recalled such incidents as taking off with two passengers but landing with three owing to a birth in mid-air, looking into China from 10,000 feet and the mass flight of RN Wessex from HMS Bulwark which got a much closer look in February 1967. Ignoring local advice, a large formation flew by mistake into Chinese airspace before making a rapid about turn and caused, ‘an almighty row.’
The Hong Kong Aviation Squadron had been formed in February 1969, on an interim basis, at Sek Kong camp in the New Territories and was the result of the amalgamation of the four aviation units in the colony. These were 20 Flight, who moved from RAF Kai Tak, to join the Air Platoons of 6th and 7th Gurkha Rifles and the Air Troop of 25 Light Regiment Royal Artillery, all of whom were already operating from Sek Kong. The Interim Squadron was officially established and titled as 656 Squadron in mid October. In deference to Army Aviation 17 Division this was not assumed until the end of December 1969, when the final disbandment was completed in Malaysia.
Up to the end of 1969 the Squadron was equipped with twelve Sioux helicopters, which had proven ideal for the Hong Kong terrain. Scout helicopters arrived during January 1970 by ship from various flights in the process of disbandment in Malaysia. For example, all the 7 Flight Scouts went to Hong Kong from Terendak in the LSL Sir Galahad in January 1970, along with the families, pets, cars and also the 656 silver inside one of the Scouts.