Irish Air Corps
Wide range of missions requires plethora of planes and helos including GIV and Lear 45, 6 AW139s and 4 EC135s as well as mixed bag of Cessnas and Pilatus.
By Jay Selman
(L–R) Comdt Paul Whelan, Comdt Mick Moran, GOC Air Corps Brig Gen Paul Fry, Lt Col Sean Clancy and Comdt Rory O'Connor.
Irish military aviation began in 1922 when a single-engine biplane, a Martinsyde Type A Mark II, was bought to permit Gen Michael Collins to escape from London should treaty talks with Britain fail.
By Jun 1922 the Air Service headquarters had been established at EIME (Baldonnel Air Base, Dublin, Ireland) and 14 pilots were flying a total of 13 aircraft.
Today, the Irish Air Corps has a fleet consisting of 6 AgustaWestland AW139s, 2 Eurocopter EC135s (plus 2 operated on behalf of the Garda), 2 CASA CN235MPAs, 5 Cessna FR172Hs, a Gulfstream IV, a Learjet 45, a Pilatus Britten-Norman Defender 4000 (operated on behalf of the Garda) and a total of 7 Pilatus PC9M trainers.
Fixed-wing aircraft and roles
Officer Commanding 102 Squadron (Fixed Wing) & Deputy Wing Commander No 1 Ops Wing, Comdt Rory O'Connor explains the roles of the various aircraft under his command. "Number 1 Ops Wing operates 5 Cessna FR172Hs. Although they carry out many different roles, the vast majority of operations in which they are involved are aerial surveillance and monitoring of cash, prisoner and explosive escorts."
O'Connor continues, "The Air Corps currently operates 7 Pilatus PC9Ms. They are equipped with a comprehensive, fully tandem-capable VFR/IFR avionics package for navigation, communication and identification, using state-of-the-art equipment. The PC9M features modern avionics including a HUD and EFIS where primary instruments are displayed.
Irish Air Corps' Learjet 45 serves in both the ministerial transport and medical patient transfer roles.
"We also operate 2 CN235 maritime patrol aircraft, which work in close cooperation with the Irish Naval Service, providing an aerial platform for patrolling the Irish Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ)—an area of approximately 132,000 sq miles or 16% of the total EU sea fisheries area.
This in itself represents an area almost 5 times the land area of Ireland and encompasses perhaps one of the most productive fisheries grounds in the world. The CN235 can also be used in the air ambulance, military transport and parachuting roles when required."
Operational control of the Air Corps' single Defender 4000 rests with the Dept of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, while the Air Corps provides pilots and technicians to the Garda Air Support Unit to fly and maintain the aircraft.
The Air Corps currently operates a Learjet 45 and a Gulfstream IV. The Learjet is available 7 days a week, usually operating in the ministerial air transport role. It also carries out regular domestic and international patient transfer services in conjunction with the Dept of Health and Children. In order to do so, the aircraft can be modified within an hour.
One of 6 AgustaWestland AW139s delivered from 2006–08.
Once the seats are removed from its interior, a Lifeport stretcher system is installed in the cabin. Designed to transport patients requiring advanced life support, Lifeport provides a fully independent electrical, oxygen, vacuum and air source to medical personnel on board the aircraft for the patient transfer.
Flagship of the fleet is a Gulfstream IV, used primarily as a transport for the Prime Minister, President or other government ministers. On rare occasions, such as the recent popular uprising in Libya, the GIV may be used in non-VIP roles, including transport and air ambulance. Irish Air Corps Press Officer Comdt Paul Whelan says, "The GIV is a 1991 model, outfitted pretty much with its original equipment in the front office.
Since it operates in both a civilian and military environment it's equipped with TACAN [tactical air navigation], but other than that it has the standard 6-pack, HF and satcom. We're looking at replacing the Jeppesen charts with an EFB at some point—but, like every other governmental agency, our expenditures must pass both internal and public scrutiny."
Whelan notes that, over the past 4 years, as the economy of Ireland has been in crisis, the Irish Air Corps has been under huge media pressure, its every movement noted. "The biggest upgrade we've been able to afford on the GIV recently is an interior upgrade a couple of years ago.
Flagship of the Irish Air Corps fleet is this Gulfstream IV. All are pictured at Baldonnel Air Base, otherwise known as Casement Aerodrome.
This is as new as this airplane is going to get, and we plan to continue operating the GIV as long as normal maintenance is incurred. If it becomes more capital intensive, the government will have to review the necessity of a replacement, and we cannot assume that a replacement is automatic."
In terms of ministerial transport, the Learjet and Gulfstream complement each other. "Typically," Whelan explains, "flights within Europe and as far as northern Africa and western Asia are operated with the 7-passenger Lear.
The 14-seat Gulfstream, of course, can be and has been used all over the world. Depending on the mission, the GIV can operate with a 3rd pilot, a flight attendant, and also a mechanic if it is operating into a facility that may have less than adequate local maintenance expertise."
Upgraded helicopter fleet
Between 2005 and 2006, the Irish Air Corps began upgrading its helicopter fleet to bring it into the 21st century. Officer Commanding No 3 Ops Wing (Helicopter) Lt Col Sean Clancy says, "We underwent a complete fleet change, losing the Gazelle, Alouette III and Dauphin in favor of the EC135 and AW139 platforms.