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Air Corps
An tAerchór
Accrest.png
Emblem of the Air Corps
Founded 1924
Country  Republic of Ireland
Role Air force
Size Approx. 1000 personnel
24 aircraft (+ 3 aircraft in support of An Garda Síochána)
Part of Defence Forces
Main airbase Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel
Motto(s) Forḟaire agus Tairiseaċt ("Watchful and Loyal")
Insignia
Current roundel Roundel of Ireland.svg
Previous roundels Roundel of Ireland (1922-1923).svg Roundel of Ireland (1939–1954).svg
(1922–1923) (1939–1954)
Air Corps Flag Eire Air Corps.png
Aircraft flown
Attack PC-9M
Patrol CASA CN235-100MP Persuader
Cessna FR172H
Trainer PC-9M
Transport CN-235
Gulfstream IV
Learjet 45
AW139
EC 135P2

The Air Corps (Irish language: an tAerchór ) is the air component of the Defence Forces of Ireland[1] providing support to the Army and Naval Service, together with non-military air services such as search and rescue, air ambulance and the Ministerial Air Transport Service. The principal airbase is Casement Aerodrome located at Baldonnel.[2]

History[edit | edit source]

National Army Air Service[edit | edit source]

The National Army Air Service was independent Ireland's first air force. During the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks of 1921, a Martinsyde Type A Mark II biplane was purchased and put on 24-hour standby at Croydon Airport to allow Michael Collins to escape back to Ireland if the talks failed. The plane was not needed for this mission, and it became the first aircraft of the new National Army Air Service arriving in June 1922.[3] The National Army Air Service was established in July 1922 and was gradually equipped with various aircraft types acquired from the R.A.F. and the Aircraft Disposal Company. This company had been formed in 1919 to dispose of surplus aircraft and aero-engines from World War I for the British Government.[4] By the end of 1922, the National Army Air Service comprised ten aircraft, consisting of six Bristol F2B fighters from the First World War and four Martinsyde F4 Fighters, and about 400 men. Its successor, the Irish Army Air Corps was established in 1924 following a re-organisation of the National Army at the end of the Civil War.[4]

The Air Corps[edit | edit source]

Early years[edit | edit source]

With the establishment of the Defence Forces in 1924 the Air Service became the new Army's Air Corps and remained part of the Army until the 1990s.

In 1938 four Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters were delivered – a further eight were ordered but were embargoed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Other aircraft purchased from the United Kingdom before the outbreak of war included 16 Avro Anson Mark I maritime patrol bombers, 3 Supermarine Walrus amphibians, 6 Westland Lysander Mark II army co-operation aircraft and a number of trainers.[5]

Irish Air Corps Avro Anson C.19 operated from 1946 until 1962

File:IrishAirCorps deHavilland Vampires 1955.jpg

1955 Defence Forces image of IAC de Havilland Vampire T-11 Trainers

During World War II (or The Emergency) there are no records of Air Corps planes engaging any belligerent aircraft, although dozens of escaped barrage balloons were shot down. Requests for more aircraft from Britain resulted in 13 obsolete Hawker Hector biplane light bombers, supplied during 1941. 163 belligerent aircraft force-landed in Ireland during the war, and in this way the Air Corps acquired a Lockheed Hudson, a Fairey Battle, and three Hawker Hurricanes. The Hurricane gave the Air Corps a proven modern fighter, and – at peak – 20 flew in Irish colours.[3]

Postwar[edit | edit source]

After the war, the Hurricanes were replaced by Supermarine Seafires and a few two-seat Spitfire trainers. Avro Anson light transports were operated as communications aircraft between 1946 and retirement in 1962. The Percival Provost was introduced in the mid 1950s as the IACs initial training aircraft.

Percival Provost piston-engined primary trainer at Baldonnel airfield in 1967

The de Havilland Dove became the Corps' transport aircraft. The jet age arrived on 30 June 1956 when the Corps took delivery of a de Havilland Vampire T.55 trainer.[6] In early 1963 the Corps took delivery of its first helicopters, SA.316B Alouette IIIs, of which seven remained in service at the start of the 21st century. During their operational lifetime, 3,300 people were assisted by the Alouette helicopters in their Search and Rescue and air ambulance roles.[citation needed]

During the mid-sixties and early seventies, the Corps played a part in expanding Ireland's film industry.

Irish Air Corps pilots filming Roger Corman's Richthofen & Brown, 1970. Lynn Garrison second from right, front row

Pilots and engineering staff participated in a 1965 box office success, The Blue Max. The fleet of World War I replicas, owned by ex-RCAF fighter pilot Lynn Garrison's "Blue Max Aviation", was based at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel – before being moved to Weston Aerodrome at Leixlip. Here the Corps continued its involvement, providing aircrew and engineering staff to support films such as Darling Lili, Von Richthofen and Brown, Zeppelin and a number of television commercials. Lynn Garrison was also responsible for co-ordinating the first demonstration of the Marchetti SF-260 Warrior at Baldonnel. As a result of this presentation the Corps acquired a number of Warriors.

Overflight by IAC non-combat aircraft

Expansion[edit | edit source]

In the mid-1970s the expansion of the "Ministerial Air Transport Service" (MATS) following Ireland's accession to the European Economic Community (now the European Union) led to the acquisition of the Corps' first business jet, a BAe 125-700.

In 1975 several Fouga Magister CM-170 jet aircraft were purchased secondhand from France. They were used for training, for the Light Strike Squadron and for the Silver Swallows display team. They were withdrawn from service in 1998 and not replaced, leaving the Irish Air Corps without any jet combat aircraft.

In 1977 ten SIAI-Marchetti SF.260WE Warriors were delivered for light training and ground attack roles. Four have been lost in crashes. In 1986 five SA 365Fi Dauphin II were acquired for the SAR role. Two of these were modified for operation from the Naval Service Helicopter Patrol vessel LÉ Eithne, and equipped with crashproof fuel tanks and harpoon deck arrester gear.

As part of Ireland's obligations to the European Union, the Irish Air Corps patrols 132,000 square miles (342,000 km²) of sea. The Air Corps previously employed two of its three Beechcraft 200 Super King Airs for this duty. However, the Super King Airs used for Maritime patrol were disposed of in the 1990s, and the third was allocated to transport duties. 102 Squadron operated one Beech King Air (#BB-672 with tail-number 240), but (as of 2010) it is out of service and hangared. Two previously operated aircraft (#BB-376 and #BB-208, with tail-numbers 232 and 234) were sold in 1991 and 1992 respectively. [7][8] Two CASA C235-100 maritime patrol aircraft now undertake these patrols – and were upgraded in 2006/2007 by EADS CASA to the FITS Persuader standard with enhanced radar, forward looking infra red equipment and a new electronic and avionics suite.

In its MATS role, following Ireland's assumption of the EU Presidency the Corps leased a Grumman Gulfstream III – which in 1990 became the first Irish military aircraft to circumnavigate the world. A Grumman Gulfstream IV was later acquired, as was a Learjet 45. The average cost per hour in 2012 of operating the Gulfstream IV was €3,790.[9]

In 2004 eight Pilatus PC-9M trainers were delivered to the Air Corps. The Pilatus aircraft were the first Air Corps aircraft to break with an IAC tradition of using consecutive tail-numbers. The General Officer Commanding started the new Pilatus tail-numbers in the 260 series – jumping from tail-number 258 (a Learjet 45) to 260 (the first Pilatus) – skipping tail-number 259. The Pilatus is the first Air Corps aircraft to have ejection seats since the Vampire. The PC-9M has six underwing hard points, and has the capability to be armed with FN HMP250 gun pods, each carrying one M3P machine gun, and FN LAU-7 rocket pods, each carrying seven Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets, for the close air support role. Aircrews have an annual live firing exercise, flying out of Casement Aerodrome at Baldonnel to the coastal range at Gormanston Camp.[10]

Two Eurocopter EC 135P2 Light Utility Helicopters were delivered to the Irish Air Corps (IAC) in November 2005. The first of four AgustaWestland AW139s were handed over to the IAC at Agusta's facility in Milan in November 2006.[11] Two of the AW139 remained in Milan to provide training for Irish pilots before being flown to Ireland in December 2006. These helicopters are another first for the IAC as they are delivered with the capability to carry door mounted 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Guns.

On 12 October 2009 an Air Corps instructor, Captain Derek Furniss, and Cadet David Jevens were killed when their Pilatus PC-9 crashed during a training exercise in Connemara, County Galway.[12]

During the 2011 Libyan civil war, the Air Corps was tasked with evacuating approximately forty Irish citizens from the troubled country. The operation involved two Air Corps aircraft (the Learjet and one CN-235), and nine personnel, using Malta as a temporary base.[13][14][15]

Aircraft inventory[edit | edit source]

IAC Pilatus PC-9M

IAC Eurocopter EC 135 P2

Irish Air Corps CASA CN-235

File:Sa316b 212 3opswg.jpg

IAC Aérospatiale Alouette III. In use 1963 to 2007.

Current[edit | edit source]

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Maritime patrol
CASA CN-235 Spain maritime patrol MPA 100 2[16]
Transport
Learjet 45 United States VIP / air ambulance 1[17]
Surveillance
Britten-Norman Defender United Kingdom police air support Defender 4000 1[16] flown for the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU) [18]
Cessna Reims FR172 H France surveillance / utility 5[19] based on the Cessna 172[20]
Helicopters
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy utility 6[16]
Eurocopter EC135 France utility EC135 P2+/T2 4[16] two P2+s are flown for military purposes,[21] with two T2s for the GASU[22]
Trainer
Pilatus PC-9 Switzerland advanced trainer / CAS PC-9M 7[16] armament option include heavy machine gun or rocket pods.[23][24]

Recent equipment retirements[edit | edit source]

Replaced by the PC-9Ms, several SF-260WE Marchetti Warriors (the previous fixed-wing mainstay of the Air Corps College) were sold to a private reseller in the United States – though one example was retained for the IAC's museum collection. Several other aircraft (including four Dauphins and one Gazelle) have retired from service, struck off the IACs aircraft register and sold to foreign buyers.

The Sikorsky S-61N operated by the IAC for Search and Rescue/Coast Guard operations was returned to CHC Helicopter – who now operate the S-61N in the same Coast Guard SAR capacity. As part of this consolidation to a limited number of supported types, and following the exercise of two further options on AW139 Utility Helicopters, the previous army support fleet, the Alouette IIIs, were "stood down" at a ceremony at Casement aerodrome on 21 September 2007.

The Eurocopter twin squirrel helicopter of the Garda Air Support Unit was replaced by a second Eurocopter EC135 in January 2008.

Capabilities[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps military roles and the functions it carries out are those of an army air corps rather than that of a conventional military air force. The Air Corps air space control and ground attack capacity is limited to low level and during clear weather. Helicopter troop transport is also limited but is now available 24 hours a day. The Air Corps non-military capabilities in aid to the civil power and other Government departments include Ministerial transport, fishery protection, limited maritime patrol, Garda support, search and rescue over both land and sea, an air ambulance service and non-combatant evacuation. The Air Corps provides the State the capacity to meet any ongoing needs and should it be required the basis to expand.

Organisation and Roles[edit | edit source]

Organisation[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps is primarily divided into two operational flying wings, and two non-flying support wings, plus an independent non-flying squadron. The final major unit of the Air Corps is the Air Corps College.

No 1 Operations Wing[edit | edit source]

1 Operations Wing is the main formation responsible for operational fixed-wing flying.[25] This is sub-divided into four individual flying squadrons and two non-flying squadrons, each of which has a dedicated role:

  • 101 Squadron – Maritime Surveillance and Fishery Protection
  • 102 Squadron – Ministerial Transport
  • 104 Squadron – Army Cooperation
  • 103 Squadron – Engineering support unit
  • 105 Squadron – Photographic support

No 3 Operations Wing[edit | edit source]

3 Operations Wing is the formation responsible for operational rotary wing flying,[26] and is divided into two flying and one non-flying squadrons

  • 301 Squadron – Army Cooperation
  • 302 Squadron – Naval Support and SAR
  • 303 Squadron – Engineering support unit
  • 304 Squadron – Garda Air Support

No 4 Support Wing[edit | edit source]

4 Support Wing is primarily concerned with second-line aircraft maintenance (front line maintenance is done by the engineering squadrons in each operational wing).[27] This formation has two squadrons.

  • 401 Squadron – Mechanical support
  • 402 Squadron – Avionics support

No 5 Support Wing[edit | edit source]

5 Support Wing is responsible for logistic support for the Air Corps.[28]

  • 502 Squadron – Logistic support
  • 503 Squadron – Transport
  • 504 Squadron – Medical services
  • 505 Squadron – Air Traffic Control
  • Fire Fighting Unit

A further unit, independent of No 5 Wing, is the Communication & Information Services Squadron, which has responsibility for communications and IT support for the entire Air Corps.[29]

Air Corps College[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps College is the principal training unit of the Irish Air Corps, where all entrants into the service undertake their training. The College is divided into three distinct schools:[30]

  • Flying Training School – The FTS has primary responsibility both for flying training, for which it is equipped with a squadron of Pilatus PC-9 fixed wing aircraft, as well as officer training.
  • Technical Training School – The TTS undertakes technical training for those who will become aircraft technicians.
  • Military Training and Survival School – The MTSS is responsible for the basic military training of all new recruits, as well as career progression training.

Roles[edit | edit source]

Air Ambulance[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps provides an air ambulance service for emergency rapid transfer of patients between hospitals or to hospitals from offshore islands. The service also transports emergency organ retrieval teams. The aircraft's used are the AW139, EC135, CASA and Learjet. One AW139 is also operated for the Emergency Aeromedical Service based in Athlone, providing an air ambulance service from scenes of accidents to hospitals, in conjunction with the National Ambulance Service[31][32]

Maritime Patrol[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps operates two CASA CN235 Maritime Patrol aircraft in support of the fishery protection. These long-range aircraft patrol throughout the Irish exclusive fishery limits. The Cessna's and occasionally the EC135 and AW139 helicopters are used to monitor inshore fishing activities.

Ministerial Air Transport Service[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps provide a Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) to assist the President and members of the Government in official engagements at both home and abroad. The Gulfstream IV and Learjet 45 are used specifically for this purpose. The AW139 and occasionally the EC135 and CASA are also used for the MATS.

251 (cn 1160) Irish An tAerchór (Air Corps) Grumman G1159C Gulfstream IV used as VIP Transport. Its operation cost is €3,790 per hour. Seen at Burke Lakefront, this G-1159C brought The Taoiseach of Ireland (The Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny to Cleveland.

Garda Air Support[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality currently operates three aircraft for the Garda Air Support role. Operational control of the aircraft remains with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, whereas the Air Corps provide pilots and aircraft technicians to the Garda Air Support Unit to fly and maintain the aircraft.[33]

Ranks[edit | edit source]

The Air Corps' ranks are similar to those of the Irish Army. The strength is 850 all ranks.[2]

Officers[edit | edit source]

IAC AgustaWestland AW139

Non-commissioned[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Irish Defence Forces are made up of the Permanent Defence Forces (PDF or P.D.F) and the Reserve Defence Forces (RDF or R.D.F.). The Air Corps are part of the PDF.
  2. 2.0 2.1 – Official site of IAC
  3. 3.0 3.1 Military.ie/aircorps/history – History page on official IAC site
  4. 4.0 4.1 1 AIRCRAFT OF THE IRISH AIR SERVICE, IRISH ARMY AIR CORPS AND IRISH AIR CORPS, 1922–2007, International Plastic Modellers' Society Ireland website
  5. IrishAirPics.com – Air Corps Aircraft Register
  6. The Irish Air Corps/Aer Chór na hÉireann at Scramble
  7. IrishAirPics IAC register
  8. Irish Air Corps website King Air page retrieved 5 November 2007.
  9. St Patrick's Day trips cost €100,000 Irish Times, 2 April 2012.
  10. Air Forces Review – Irish Air Corps Pilatus PC-9M Air Firing, report by Frank Grealish
  11. Air Corps Fleet – Agusta Westland AW139
  12. RTÉ News – Two pilots die in Air Corps crash – 13 October 2009
  13. Times of Malta: Ireland sends planes to Malta for Libyan airlift – 22 February 2011
  14. RTE News: Air Corps to fly Irish citizens out of Libya – 23 February 2011
  15. Irish Examiner: Irish Government planes on standby for Libya evacuation 23 January 2011
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 "World Air Forces 2016 pg. 21". Flightglobal Insight. 2015. https://flightglobal.com/asset/6297/waf/. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  17. "Learjet 45". military.ie. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/fleet/learjet-45/. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  18. "Pilatus Britten Norman Defender". military.ie. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/fleet/pbn-defender/. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  19. "Cessna 172H". military.ie. http://www.military.ie/en/air-corps/fleet/cessna-172/. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  20. "Irish Air Corps - REIMS (CESSNA) FR.172H AND FR.172K ROCKET". http://www.ipmsireland.com/IACRocket.html. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  21. "EC135 P2". military.ie. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/fleet/ec135-p2/. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  22. "EC135 T2". military.ie. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/fleet/ec135-t2/. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  23. "Fleet - Pilatus PC-9M Statistics". Military.ie (Official Defence Forces website). http://www.military.ie/en/air-corps/fleet/pilatus-pc-9m/. 
  24. IrishAirPics.com - Description of live fire training exercise
  25. "No 1 Ops Wing". Irish Air Corps. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/organisation/no-1-ops-wing. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  26. "No 3 Ops Wing". Irish Air Corps. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/organisation/no-3-ops-wing. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  27. "No 4 Sp Wing". Irish Air Corps. http://www.military.ie/en/air-corps/organisation/no-4-sp-wing. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  28. "No 5 Sp Wing". Irish Air Corps. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/organisation/no-5-sp-wing. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  29. "CIS Squadron". Irish Air Corps. http://www.military.ie/en/air-corps/organisation/cis-squadron. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  30. "Air Corps College". Irish Air Corps. http://www.military.ie/air-corps/organisation/air-corps-college. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  31. "Health Update". Press Release. Health Update. http://healthupdate.gov.ie/news-room/minister-for-health-dr-james-reilly-td-the-minister-for-justice-equality-defence-mr-alan-shatter-td-announcing-the-launch-of-the-emergency-aeromedical-service-eas.html#more-6994. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 
  32. "TheJournal.ie". News Article. The Journal. http://www.thejournal.ie/air-ambulance-service-completes-over-100-missions-716502-Dec2012/. 
  33. http://www.military.ie/aircorps/fleet/squirrel/index.htm
  34. New Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) of the Defence Forces is appointed

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