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.
(L–R) Pilatus Britten-Norman Defender 4000 flown and maintained by the Irish Air Corps for the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU). Retired from Air Corps service in 1999, this Fouga CM170 Super Magister is now housed in the Air Corps Museum. One of 8 Pilatus PC9Ms that serve as trainers with the Flying Training School of the Air Corps College.
Gen Fry's career with the Irish Air Corps began in 1974, and he has over 5000 flying hours in a variety of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, although as a regulator he was forced to hang up his operational wings.
Fry sees his legacy in developing his personnel and equipment to the ultimate level of competence. He has authored papers advocating the use of night vision goggles (NVGs) and other safety-enhancing equipment.
He also advocates the use of Air Corps helicopters overseas in support of Irish troops, including development of a strategic lift capability.
Several recent incidents requiring the use of Air Corps aircraft to evacuate Irish citizens from Libya and other trouble spots, illustrate this need. Fry says, "We want to get the word out to our 'customers' about our range of capabilities and relevance in the overall defense and national context. This in turn helps prevent the question, 'What does the Irish Air Corps do and what does their operation do to benefit me?'"
Officer Commanding No 2 Maintenance Squadron Comdt Mick Moran says his unit meets 100% of the non-heavy maintenance requirements for all Air Corps' aircraft.
"We endeavor to undertake all of the first line and some of the second line maintenance here," he says.
"The Air Corps trains its own apprentices for this purpose with personnel advancing through the ranks up to aircraft inspector status. Complete maintenance is carried out on smaller airframes such as Cessna 172s and PC9s (to a degree).
Obviously, the bigger calendar and airframe life inspections are carried out at either the aircraft manufacturer's facility or other similar qualified provider. The Air Corps generally tenders for the heavier maintenance tasks.
We have power-by-the-hour contracts for some aircraft types, as well as a generous onhand stores provision here at EIME. Since we're the first military customer for the AW139, the manufacturer is particularly anxious to see that we're well provided for. We can do everything up to an 800-hr check here for the 139s.
We can do A-checks on the Learjet and 150-hr checks for the GIV before we have to go to outside contractors. Since these aircraft are used as the flag carrier, we receive excellent support by the OEMs."
Comdt Moran also explains that the Irish Air Corps is both an operator and maintenance provider. "We train our own technicians on A&P and avionics as part of our Corps curriculum.
Some of our instructors are retired civilian technicians. Although we do not technically fall under the jurisdiction of EASA, we still maintain our aircraft to standards required by the civilian authorities."
Pilot selection and training
Two variants of Eurocopter EC135 are operated by the Irish Air Corps—the EC135T2 (L) used for the GASU operation and the EC135P2 used as a general utility and training helicopter. (R) An Air Corps mechanic works on an AW139's Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turboshaft engine.
Comdt Whelan talks about the process of selecting and training pilots. "We induct and train all of our personnel. As we are military, budding pilots apply to join and are chosen having undergone a detailed selection process. In addition to the usual conditions associated with pilot selection, psychometric, medical etc, budding officer pilots must satisfy the criteria for a Defence Forces military cadetship.
On selection, our pilots undergo a 9-month military cadetship with their Army and Navy counterparts before coming to Baldonnel to commence flight training. As mentioned above, this training is carried out on the PC9 (including sim time).
Approximately 180 hrs later, on successful completion of the Wings course, they are awarded military pilot wings and a military commission, and thereby promoted to the rank of 2nd lieutenant or lieutenant depending on whether they joined as a school leaver or a graduate.
They then generally spend a year-plus flying Cessna 172s (cash escorts, artillery drogue towing, survey), cutting their teeth on airmanship, planning, grass roots navigation and personal responsibility before they move to either rotary or fixed-wing ops."
He continues, "The Air Corps cadet competition is open to a wide section of candidates. However, candidates with third-level education (to degree standard) receive more 'points' at the selection phase, so someone with a degree in aeronautical engineering has probably got a better chance of success than a school leaver (though we have a fair share of school leavers too).
The Air Corps cadet competition is an almost annual event and is usually hugely oversubscribed. The last 2 competitions have only looked for 3 or 4 wings candidates."
The future of the Irish Air Corps
As all parties recognize, the Corps is dependent on government funding and is often at the mercy of political and financial winds. The current economic climate is not conducive to growth through new acquisitions, so it is up to all concerned to make the most of what they have to work with.
Speaking as director of military aviation, Gen Fry sums it up best. "We're always looking at capability development while utilizing current assets. We are servants of the State and, due to the current economic climate, our budget is vulnerable each year.
We don't take anything for granted, and have to economize the maximum extent possible. Yet I'm in the direct chain of command through the general staff to the Prime Minister, so it's up to us to make the best case possible for our present and future capabilities and funding."
As military aviation in Ireland enters its 10th decade, the Irish Air Corps remains a necessary part of the island nation's first line of defense.
Jay Selman has been a contributing writer for Pro Pilot for 28 years. His aviation articles have also appeared in magazines and newspapers around the world. He currently works as a customer service agent for a major airline in Charlotte NC.