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.

One of 2 CASA CN235 maritime patrol aircraft. (Insets L–R) Radar operator's consoles and close-up of FLIR turret.

"Two EC135P2s are Irish Air Corps machines, and are used primarily as the main ab initio rotary-wing training aircraft for the Air Corps.

A typical rotary-wing conversion course lasts approximately 6 months during which students will complete a variety of military rotary-wing operations such as abseiling drills, cargo slinging, mountain flying and tactical formation.

They can also be used for roles such as air ambulance and VIP transport."
In conjunction with the Dept of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Air Corps also operates 2 EC135T2s.

The first one entered service in 2003, and both operate 7 days a week in the Garda air support role. Operational control of the EC135T2s rests with the Dept of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with the Air Corps providing pilots to the Garda Air Support Unit to fly the aircraft.

Mainstay of the Air Corps' rotary-wing fleet is the AW139 medium-lift twin. Six are in service. The AW139 has a troop-lifting capacity of up to 14 personnel in normal configuration.

The front office incorporates a fully integrated digital avionics and cockpit display system, including autopilot and dual FMS with GPS and radio navigation system. The AW139 is used mainly in the Army support role, serving as an air ambulance, military transport and general utility vehicle.

Clancy, who participated in the decision to select the AW139, explains, "All aircraft acquisitions are made by a board that consists of civilian, Dept of Defence and governmental components. We went through a standard request-for-tender process.

The AW139 met our overall requirements for size, cost, range, speed and ease of maintenance. Further, its capabilities encompassed our range of missions. We have not been disappointed."

AW139 from civvies to fatigues

(L–R) Officer Commanding No 3 Ops Wing (Helicopter) Lt Col Sean Clancy, Officer Commanding No 2 Maintenance Squadron Comdt Mick Moran, and Officer Commanding 102 Squadron (Fixed Wing) & Deputy Wing Commander No 1 Ops Wing Comdt Rory O'Connor.

Lt Col Raymond Flanagan is head of Ireland's Military Airworthiness Authority and AW139 project manager. He says, "When we sent out our request for tender, we looked for the best helicopter to meet our requirements, without specifying a civilian or military aircraft.

We narrowed our choices down to 3 helicopters, and the AW139 was the clear winner."

Among the criteria that the board considered, Flanagan lists the following.

"The AW139 gives us a minimum of a 120-mile range with a 20-min reserve while transporting a crew of 2 and up to 14 troops in normal configuration, or 8 fully-geared combat troops.

In an air ambulance configuration, it offers a 150-mile range with a 75-mile reserve with 3 pilots and 2 medics, and 1 patient or a neonatal incubator. And then as a VIP transport, the AW139 carries a crew of 3 and 5 passengers in VIP configuration."

He continues, "The helicopter is equipped with flotation gear in the event of a water landing, along with a rescue hoist, fast rope capabilities, and limited fire support from a fixed mount, along with the capacity for several planned future add-ons."

He adds that the delivery period was critical, as the maintenance intensity of the prior fleet was reaching unacceptable proportions and threatened to limit the Corps' helicopter capability. The tender was officially awarded in Jan 2005, with the first 2 machines delivered the following year. Two more AW139s were delivered in 2007, and the final pair in 2008.

Flanagan notes that the helicopters were delivered under a civilian export certificate, with a number of fixed provisions for military add-ons that did not affect the civilian certification. "As an example, we worked in conjunction with AgustaWestland to develop a troop seat layout based on American military standards that would meet Irish certification requirements.

AgustaWestland reengineered and recertified the roof and floor to our needs, adding hard points that would accommodate our various roles. The cabin is stressed for military-standard cargo netting, a cargo hook and a specially designed auxiliary fuel tank."

Other noteworthy modifications include provisions for a fast-rope system and a roof-mounted 4-arm abseiling device. According to Flanagan, "AgustaWestland gave its commitment to work with the Irish Defence Force to develop and certify the modifications we needed. It paid off for them as well, as they subsequently offered those modifications as options and, as a result, won military orders from several countries."

"Continued support from Agusta­Westland has met our expectations," notes Flanagan. "We figured our life cycle costs over a 20-year lifespan. The aircraft are performing well and we're continuing to work with AgustaWestland on further enhancements."

Air Corps leadership

General Officer Commanding (GOC) Air Corps Brig Gen Paul Fry is both commanding officer and director of military aviation. As such he is in charge of regulating flying, engineering, training, medical and ATC standards within the Air Corps.

His staff maintains daily ongoing liaison with the civilian ATC authorities, whose airspace surrounds the military flying training exercise areas. Fry notes, "The majority of our operational flying is conducted under the civil airspace model. In fact, all of our aircraft are delivered to civil aviation standards. Flying training is completed in our own airspace."

Fry was in the first class of Air Corps pilots to graduate on the then-new twinjet trainer, the Fouga CM170 Super Magister, in 1976. He was also president of the technical evaluation and selection board for the PC9M trainer in 2002. Eight of these serve in the Flying Training School of the Air Corps College. Here they are engaged in the flying training of cadet pilots and the Air Corps' own instructor pilots.


1 | 2| 3 | next