UK Military Bridging – Equipment (Air Portable Bridges)


With the advent of air mobile infantry it was a natural requirement to support them with appropriate bridging capabilities. This was reinforced by the setting up of the UK Strategic Reserve and a general change in posture as the UK withdrew its forces to the UK and BAOR in the late sixties.

Class 16 Air Portable Bridge

The requirements for the Class 16 Air Portable Bridge were demanding, they dictated that it should be air portable (of course) and adaptable so as to be used as a ferry, floating bridge and a 50ft dry gap bridge.

A number of innovative ideas had been put forward by MEXE it was thought that a more conventional design would be a prudent backup and Posford, Pavry and Partners were engaged to provide an alternative design.

The design from MEXE was eventually chosen because it was cheaper to make and met the requirements.

The final bridge set consisted of a series of extruded aluminium box sections that could be joined together to form the desired bridge. Ramp units, articulating sections, sponsons and detachable pneumatic floats could be added as needed. When used as a raft a 40hp Johnson outboard engine was mounted in a specially designed turntable which also doubled as a storage container for transport. The floats were designed to be inflated by the exhaust of a Land Rover, diving equipment or conventional compressors.

In most configurations the Air Portable Bridge could accommodate Class 16 loads but this could be increased slightly, to Class 20, when used as a floating bridge. Carried on specially constructed trailers that could be towed by Land Rovers, for the dry gap bridge, 3 trailers and the raft, 5 trailers. It could also be transported by  Argosy and Hercules aircraft and carried as an underslung load by a Wessex helicopter. Using helicopters to emplace the bridge was also part of the development effort, trials in Australia confirmed this was possible and in 1982, in the Falkland Islands, a Chinook successfully placed a 42 foot bridge over the River Murrell, able to support CVR(T).

Manufactured by Laird (Anglesey) Ltd, the same company that makes the Class 30 and Class 70 Trackway, the Class 16 Air Portable Bridge entered service with both the UK and Australia in 1970.

Air Portable Ferry Bridge

The Air Portable Ferry Bridge replaced the Class 16 Air Portable Bridge, developed by WFEL and 16 sets were purchased. The AFFB is based on the single storey MGB and uses many common components, existing MGB’s can even be converted to the APFB.

Focussing on lightness and deployability it is still capable of supporting Class 35 loads and equally as flexible as the MGB. It is configured as single storey, fly forward, ferry or as an overbridge.

The Air Portable Ferry Bridge is usually carried on 8 DROPS pallets but can also be air lifted by Chinook, Merlin or specially design trailers called Fly Forward Trailers.

Air Portable Ferry Bridge Fly Forward Trailer
Air Portable Ferry Bridge Fly Forward Trailer

Much like the MGB the APFB can be configured as a single story, double storey or double storey with link reinforcement to increase the length.

The ferry configuration uses the same bridge components but combined with 6 pontoons to form a powered ferry that can travel at 6 knots.

Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Ferry configuration
Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Ferry configuration

Each configuration is 4m wide and all have an MLC of 35.

The Fly Forward can span a maximum gap of 14.5m, the Overbridge, 14.5m and Reinforced, 29.2m.

As a special bonus, it can be carried in ISO containers!

The APFB has seen service in Afghanistan

Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Afghanistan 03
Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Afghanistan

The bridge is boomed over the first pontoon. A total of 3 pontoons were used to make the Ferry Bridge. Members of the 3 Para Battle Group, which included troops from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, 51 Para Squadron, Royal Engineers, Royal Irish Regiment and D Squadron Household Cavalry, took part in Operation Baghi. The operation took place in the town of Sangin, in the north of Helmand Province. The mission saw troops from 51 Para Sqn RE complete an operational engineering first, as they built an Air Portable Ferry Bridge across the river Helmand. The bridge took about 7 hrs to build. Troops flew in to Sangin at first light and cleared a safe route in to the district centre, in order to allow re-supply and bridging vehicles in to Sangin. The operation was assisted with artillery provided by 7th Battalion Royal House Artillery and attack helicopters from 9 Regiment Army Air Corps. Both were used extensively throughout the operation. This image was taken on Op Herrick IV, the UK’s deployment into Helmand Province of Southern Afghanistan. Op Herrick IV has seen the development of the Helmand Task Force in the province, which has seen the cross Governmental Provincial Reconstruction Team set up in Lashkar Gar, to help the Afghan Government build strong governmental institutions, security and create jobs. The Task Force is made up of 3300 troops from the British Military, with the majority being taken from 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Afghanistan 02 Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Afghanistan 01 Air Portable Ferry Bridge in Afghanistan 04




Definitions and General Terms

Early Days


WWII – Far East Theatre

WWII – Africa and Northwest Europe

WWII – Italy

Post War

Iraq and Afghanistan

Equipment – Military Load Classification

Equipment – Floating Bridges

Equipment – Assault Bridging

Equipment – Construction Bridging

Equipment – Pre WWII

Equipment – The Bailey Bridge

Equipment – The Medium Girder Bridge

Equipment – Air Portable Bridges

Equipment – BR90 and REBS

Equipment – Trackway

Look Back and Look Forward