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Emblem of the Air Corps
|Size||Approx. 1000 personnel
24 aircraft (+ 3 aircraft in support of An Garda Síochána)
|Part of||Defence Forces|
|Main airbase||Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel|
|Motto||Forḟaire agus Tairiseaċt ("Watchful and Loyal")|
|Air Corps Flag|
|Patrol||CASA CN235-100MP Persuader
The Air Corps (Irish: an tAerchór) is the air component of the Defence Forces of Ireland providing support to the Army and Naval Service, together with non-military air services such as search and rescue (maritime SAR is provided by the Irish Coast Guard), air ambulance and the Ministerial Air Transport Service. The principal airbase is Casement Aerodrome located at Baldonnel.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 November 1963 the Air Corps took delivery of its first helicopters, SA.316B Alouette IIIs, of which seven remained in service until 2007. 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
|AgustaWestland AW139||Italy||Utility Helicopter||AW139||6||Can be armed with cabin mounted FN MAG machine gun.|
|CASA CN-235||Spain||Maritime patrol||CN-235M-100P||2||Upgraded by EADS-CASA in 2008|
|Cessna 172H||France||Surveillance & Monitoring||FR172H||5||Reims-built|
|Eurocopter EC-135||Germany||Light Utility & Trainer Helicopter||EC135P2||2||Also used to support the Army when not in pilot training|
|Gates Learjet 45||United States||VIP Transport & Air Ambulance||45||1|
|Grumman G1159C Gulfstream IV||United States||VIP Transport||G1159C||1||Operation cost per hour (2012): €3,790.|
|Pilatus PC-9M||Switzerland||Trainer Aircraft & Close Air Support||PC-9M||7||8 delivered, one crashed in 2009. Sometimes equipped with HMG or rocket pods.|
|In addition, the IAC operates on behalf of the national police force's Garda Air Support Unit:|
|Pilatus Britten Norman Defender 4000||Switzerland/ United Kingdom||GASU reconnaissance and patrol||BN2T-4S||1|
|Eurocopter EC 135T2||Germany||GASU||EC135T2||2|
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 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.
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.
1 Operations Wing is the main formation responsible for operational fixed-wing flying. This is sub-divided into four individual flying squadrons and two non-flying squadrons, each of which has a dedicated role:
3 Operations Wing is the formation responsible for operational rotary wing flying, and is divided into two flying and one non-flying squadrons
4 Support Wing is primarily concerned with second-line aircraft maintenance (front line maintenance is done by the engineering squadrons in each operational wing). This formation has two squadrons.
5 Support Wing is responsible for logistic support for the Air Corps.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
The Air Corps' ranks are similar to those of the Irish Army. The strength is 850 all ranks.
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