Irish Air Corps
Aer Chór na hÉireann
Emblem of the Irish Air Corps
|Country||Republic of Ireland|
|Part of||Irish Defence Forces|
|Main airbase||Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel|
|Motto||Forḟaire agus Tairiseaċt ("Watchful and Loyal")|
|Patrol||CASA CN235-100MP Persuader|
|Transport||CN-235, Gulfstream IV, Learjet 45, Beechcraft Super King Air, AW139, EC 135P2|
The Irish Air Corps (Irish: Aer Chór na hÉireann) provides the air defence function of Oglaigh na hÉireann (the Irish Defence Forces), in support of the Army and Naval Service, together with roles such as Search and Rescue and the Ministerial Air Transport Service. The principal airbase is Casement Aerodrome located at Baldonnel.
The origin of the Air Corps goes back to the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks of 1921, when a Martinsyde Type A Mark II biplane was purchased and put on 24-hour standby at Croydon airport in order 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 Irish military aircraft, arriving in June 1922.
During World War II (or The Emergency) there is no record of Air Corps planes engaging any belligerent aircraft, although dozens of escaped barrage balloons were shot down. 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.
After the war, the Hurricanes were replaced by Supermarine Seafires and a few two-seat Spitfire trainers. 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.
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.
During the mid-sixties and early seventies, the Corps played a part in expanding Ireland's film industry. Pilots and engineering staff participated in a 1965 box office success, The Blue Max. The fleet of World War One replicas, owned by ex-RCAF fighter pilot Lynn Garrison's "Blue Max Aviation", was based at 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 coordinating the first demonstration of the Marchetti SF-260 Warrior at Baldonnel. As a result of this presentation the Corps acquired a number of Warriors.
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 six SA 365N Dauphin II were aquired for the SAR role.
As part of Ireland's obligations to the European Union, the IAC patrols 132,000 square miles (342,000 km²) of sea. The Air Corps previously employed three Beechcraft 200 Super King Airs for this duty. However, two of the Super King Airs were disposed of in the 1990s, and the third was allocated to transport duties. 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.
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 ejector seats since the Vampire.
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. 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.
|AgustaWestland AW139||Italy||Medium lift/utility/attack helicopter||139||6||AW 139 '278' Last one delivered Dec 08|
|CASA CN-235||Spain||maritime patrol-limited transport role||CN-235M||2||upgraded by EADS-CASA in 2008|
|Cessna 172 Skyhawk||France||Liaison/trainer||H||5||Three W/O|
|Eurocopter EC 135||Germany||Light utility/attack helicopter||P2||2|
|Gulfstream IV||United States||Ministerial/Presidential||IV||1|
|Pilatus PC-9||Switzerland||Trainer/light ground attack||M||7||1 Crashed 12 Oct 09|
|In addition, the IAC operates on behalf of the national police force's Garda Air Support Unit:|
|Eurocopter EC 135T2||Germany||GASU||T2||2|
|Britten-Norman Defender 4000||United Kingdom||GASU||BN2T-4S||1|
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 collector 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 September 21, 2007.
The Air Corps' ranks are similar to those of the Irish Army. The strength is 850 all ranks.