The Air Corps eight Pilatus PC-9M aircraft first entered service in 2004. Equipped with a comprehensive, tandem-seat VFR/IFR avionics package for navigation, communication and identification, using state of the art equipment, the PC-9M features modern avionics including a Heads-Up Display (HUD) and Electronic Flight Instrumentation System (EFIS). The PC-9 is used for ab-initio training, advanced training, Instructor Pilot training and Close Air Support.
Casement airfield opened in 1917 and was initially used by the United Kingdom's Royal Flying Corps
The oldest aircraft in the IAC fleet currently is the Cessna FR.172 operated by 104 (Army Co-operation) Squadron
The IAC recently announced an order for three Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to replace the four that remain in service
Having been streamed into either fixed-wing or rotary-wing operations, Air Corps Student Pilots destined for the rotary course use the EC-135 as the main ab-initio rotary-wing training aircraft. A typical rotary-wing conversion course lasts approximately 88 hours of flying over a 5-6 months period, during which students will complete a variety of operations such as abseiling drills, cargo slinging, mountain flying and tactical formation flying. In addition to its training role, the EC-135s are utilised for Army support, air ambulance, VIP and military transport and for general utility work.
History of the Irish Air Corps
Established in June 1922 at Baldonnel, the Air Service started life with just 14 pilots and 13 aircraft. The strength of personnel and aircraft grew slowly at first, but by 1926 the 'Cadet Scheme' had been introduced to select future pilots. The 1930s saw more modern types purchased in small numbers, along with four examples of the Gloster Gladiator bi-plane. 1936 was noteworthy for the introduction of the Boy Apprentice Scheme, which ensured a steady stream of technical staff for aircraft maintenance duties. As the decade closed, war clouds gathered over Europe and the Air Corps had seen a modest increase in its personnel and in the quantity and quality of its equipment. The De Havilland Dragon was the first twin-engine type to enter service, with the Avro Anson becoming the first monoplane aircraft in service that had a retractable undercarriage. In the late 1940s the Hawker Hurricanes in service had been replaced by Supermarine Spitfires, with the Spitfire T.9 serving between 1951 and 1961 as an advanced trainer. The 1950s saw introduction of the DHC Chipmunk and Percival Provost, while four DH Doves replaced the elderly Ansons with the General Purpose Flight. By 1956, concrete runways and taxiways had been installed in time for Ireland to enter the jet age on 30th July when three D.H. Vampire jet trainers arrived, and flew with the Fighter Squadron until replaced by the Fouga Magisters in 1975.
3 Wing operate two Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) EC-135P2+ helicopters
They entered service in November 2005 with 302 (Army Support) Squadron.
The number of humanitarian, medical and daytime SAR flights gradually declined as the aging Alouette force neared retirement. The new rotary-winged fleet of six AgustaWestland AW.139s and a pair of the smaller Eurocopter EC.135s changed all this. The new helicopter fleet is fully night vision capable, with each helicopter carrying a modern Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) suite to ensure the rapid evacuation of injured personnel. The delivery of the new helicopters has also enabled a rapid modernisation of the rotary-wing force and permitted some slight realignment in tasking.
Following introduction of the AW.139s and EC-135s, this well-equipped helicopter force has stimulated discussion about its possible use to support United Nations and European Union operations. If at some point political agreement were reached on overseas deployments for Air Corps assets, it is more than likely that they would be restricted to non-combat roles only.
No.3 Operations Wing
When Eire joined the European Economic Community in 1973 it had two impacts; the Ministerial Air Transport Service was initiated using a single Hawker Siddeley HS125 executive jet, and sustained maritime patrolling of sea areas becoming a daily occurrence. A new tasking for the Air Corps involved the establishment of the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU) in the late 1990s, whereby the Garda helicopters and fixed-wing Britten-Norman Defender are flown by Air Corps pilots on missions tasked by the Garda. The 21st century brought closure to the Air Corps’ involvement in SAR, as the role was assigned to the Irish Coastguard. Following retirement of the Alouette and Gazelle helicopters, all other taskings for the helicopter wing remain as before.
No. 3 Operations Wing carries out all of the rotary-wing tasks and operations assigned to the Air Corps. The wing is sub divided into two operational flying squadrons, each fulfilling its own specific roles. The wing currently operates a fleet of eight aircraft, with six Augusta Westland AW.139s and two Eurocopter EC-135s. Typical operations include; observation and reconnaissance, airborne command and control, army support, casualty evacuation, military transport, search and rescue, rotary-wing pilot training and Ministerial transportation.
cannot be used for policing operations. Its surveillance equipment is said to be no longer operational and that it has been grounded for long periods at a time. Additional monies have been forthcoming in recent years to maintain the aircraft's ability to perform effectively, but a replacement is badly needed. With the recently announced purchase of the Pilatus PC-12NGs for the Air Corps it is doubtful whether the aircraft will be replaced anytime soon, but there is little doubt it will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
The IAC's Flying Training School (FTS) is responsible for the training and education of all Air Corps cadets. The school’s primary role is to conduct initial flying training and officer training for cadets on behalf of the Air Corps College. The college itself is sub-divided into three separate schools; the Flying Training School (FTS), the Technical Training School (TTS) and the Military Training & Survival School (MTSS). The FTS has a secondary role under the Defence Act to meet all operational tasks as requested by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Air Corps, to provide air defence of Ireland's air space in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles utilising the force's eight Pilatus PC-9M aircraft. In addition to the Cadet Wings Course, the school also provides instructor training, weapons training and air tactics training.
No.1 Operations Wing
A 301 Sqn AW.139 prepares to depart Casement for a sortie in May 2018
The second EC-135 delivered is seen on the apron at Casement
Of note is the folding winch above the cab's side-door
Two Airbus Helicopters EC.135Ts are operated by the GASU
The first aircraft delivered in 2002 is seen at Casement on 14th May 2018
Casement Air Base, located at Baldonnel, on the outskirts of the capital Dublin, is home to the Aer Chór Na hÉireann (Irish Air Corps-IAC). One of the smallest air arms in Europe, it has gone through a gradual modernisation of its aircraft in the 21st Century, older types being withdrawn and replaced with more modern state-of-the-art equipment. However, whilst Ireland's high economic growth has enabled the Defence Forces to invest heavily in recent years, the Air Corps has found it hard to retain its key personnel. The IAC should have a total personnel strength of 850, but is currently short of that figure by approximately 100. It should also have 100 pilots on strength, but is currently only operating with around 70, and there is also less than half the number of technicians required. This has resulted in senior commanders being forced to fly missions to plug the gaps created by personnel who have left for more lucrative and less stressful jobs within the private sector. Jetwash Aviation Photos visited Baldonnel to report on the aircraft and operations of the IAC and to look at what is happening despite the current force shortfalls in personnel.
Garda Síochána Air Support Unit
In conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the IAC operates a single Pilatus Britten-Norman Defender 4000 aircraft and two EC-135T2 helicopters on behalf of the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU) under the auspices of 106 Squadron. The Defender entered service in 1997, with the first EC-135 entering service in 2003, and the second in 2007. Operational control of the aircraft remains with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with the Air Corps providing pilots to the GASU to fly the aircraft.
'FORFAIRE AGUS TAIRISEACHT'
'Vigilant and Loyal'
The IAC's current structure is centred around Air Corps Headquarters, which is comprised of; General Officer Commanding, an Operations Section and a Support Section. In addition, three specialist sections; Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA), Flight Safety Section and Military Police Section are attached, under direct command of the General Officer Commanding. Flight operations at Casement are concentrated around No.1 Operational Wing, which flies the fixed-wing aircraft and also includes the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU); No.3 Operational Wing with the rotary-wing element; and the Air Corps College, which flies the Pilatus PC-9Ms.
The Air Corps took delivery of its first two AgustaWestland AW.139 aircraft in November 2006 and fly with 301 Squadron. The medium-lift twin-engine helicopter has a troop capacity of up to 14 personnel in its normal configuration. In the cockpit the aircrew have a fully integrated digital avionics and cockpit display, a dual flight management system with GPS and radio navigation system. Much of 3 Wing's work is in support of the Irish Army Ranger Wing (Ireland's Special Forces element) and the Army Brigades.
In October 2009, PC-9M #265 was lost in an accident over Galway, with the aircraft being totally destroyed. A decision was eventually made to replace the aircraft, bringing the fleet back up to eight and assisting in a required increase in pilot training in the Air Corps. The replacement PC-9M, #269, arrived at Casement on 4th July 2017, having flown from the Pilatus factory in Switzerland. Fitted with two 240-litre (63.4 US gallon) additional underwing fuel tanks, this was the first time they’d been seen fitted to an Air Corps PC-9M. With production of the PC-9M having ceased, the ‘new build’ aircraft is made up of several cannibalised parts from other aircraft.
Military Pilot Wings Course
The objective of the Wings Course is to train student's with zero flying experience to the standard required for the award of their military pilot wings. The duration of the Wings Course is 15 months and incorporates Ground Training and three flying phases (Elementary, Basic and Advanced), each culminating with a flight test to ensure the required standards are being achieved or exceeded.
Ground Training covers a variety of aviation related subjects and ensures students theoretical knowledge is at the standard required for recognition by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) of Airline Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) knowledge. It covers; Principles of Flight, Meteorology, Instrumentation, Communication, Human Performance and Limitations, Basic Navigation, Power-plant, Air Law, Airframes and Aircraft Systems, Electrics and Electronics, Mass and Balance, Aircraft Performance, Flight Planning and Monitoring and Operational Procedures. In tandem with the ground school syllabus, cadets are also instructed in a variety of other subjects relating to their training as officers and future leaders within the Defence Forces.
Flying Training School
The four Reims-Cessna 172s remaining in service were taken on charge in October 1972, and carry out a wide variety of roles for the Air Corps. The majority of their operations involve aerial surveillance and monitoring of cash, prisoner & explosive escorts, but also include inshore fishery patrols, drogue towing and general utility flights. The Irish Air Corps announced on 19th December 2017 that it had signed a deal for the purchase of three new Pilatus PC-12NG turboprop aircraft to replace the Cessna 172s. The contract, valued at €32 million ($38 million), will see the three aircraft delivered between 2019 and 2020. The single-engine PC-12NG will be used for a variety of missions including; MEDEVAC, logistical support, and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance. It will also provide the IAC with a larger, far more capable and reliable aircraft, along with considerably longer range and higher speed.
© Irish Defence Forces
Aer Chór na h'Eireann
Irish Air Corps
PC-9 pilots are also tasked with providing a ground attack and support capability for the Irish Defence Forces. To maintain their currency, an annual live-firing exercise takes place at the D1 range of the coast near Gormanston, County Meath. The PC-9Ms are equipped with six underwing hardpoints and are normally configured with two Fabrique Nationale Belgique (FN-Herstal) 12.7mm (.50 cal) cannon pods, capable of firing over 1000 rounds per minute; and two FN Herstal LAU-7 rocket pods, each carrying seven 70mm (2.75 inch) rockets. Sorties are normally flown from Casement Air Base as the runway at Gormanston is no longer in use, although the range is only some 25 miles and so only a few minutes flying time away.
The sole Ministerial Transport currently in service with 102 Squadron is a Bombardier Learjet 45. The aircraft entered service in 2004 to supplement the long-range Gulfstream IV, which has since been withdrawn. In addition to its transport role, the Learjet regularly carries out national and international patient transfer services in conjunction with the Department of Health and Children. In order to do so, the aircraft can be modified from its VIP fit within an hour, to allow for a fully independent Lifeport stretcher system to be installed. The Lifeport system provides a fully independent electrical, oxygen, vacuum and air source to medical personnel on board the aircraft for the patient's transfer.
No. 1 Operations Wing (1 OW) carries out all fixed-wing tasks and operations assigned to the Air Corps. The wing is sub divided into four operational flying squadrons, each squadron fulfilling its own specific roles with the wing also responsible for first line maintenance the assigned aircraft assigned. 1OW is tasked with Maritime Patrol, Ministerial Air Transport, Army Co-operation & Reconnaissance, Garda Air Support, Air Ambulance, Search & Rescue top cover, Parachuting operations, Escort surveillance & monitoring and military transport.
The Swiss-manufactured Pilatus PC-9M is used for flying training and operational tasks
This modern trainer has impressive performance including a top speed of 590km/hr and the ability to sustain 7g
Advanced Flying Training builds on disciplines previously learned and also introduces a tactical element to all disciplines. During this phase students are introduced to formation flying, where not only do they learn how to fly in close formation as a member of a team; they also learn how to act as leader of a formation. The advanced phase incorporates a Basic Handling Test (BHT) and Final Navigation Test (FNT), which entitles the student to a basic aircraft rating. In order to receive military pilot wings the students must pass the Final Handling Test (FHT); this test requires students to assume command of a tactical formation as part of a military training exercise.
A new purpose-built hangar was constructed at Casement for the PC-9 fleet
#262 is seen inside the building, where both maintenance and overnight storage is undertaken
The GASU's Pilatus Britten-Norman BN.2T-4S Defender 4000 seen at Casement Air Base
We would like to thank the following people for their help in making this article possible
Capt. Seán McCarthy
Sgt. Jimmy Hayles
Sgt. Patrick Duffy
Entering service in 1994, the Irish Air Corps currently operate two Casa CN 235-100MPA Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Working in close conjunction with the Irish Naval Service, the two aircraft of 101 Squadron provide an aerial platform for patrolling the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area of approximately 132,000 square miles, or 16% of total EU sea fisheries. This in itself represents an area almost five times the land area of Ireland and encompasses perhaps one of the most productive fisheries in the world. In addition to its maritime patrol duties, the CASAs also conduct air ambulance, military transport, Search and Rescue top cover and parachuting operations. The two aircraft underwent an upgrade with EADS-CASA (now Airbus Military) in 2007-08, with fitment of a Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS). The upgrade included the OceanEye radar, new FLIR systems, Radio, INS/GPS and SATCOM/HF data-link system. According to a 2015 Department of Defence Whitepaper, the two CASA CN-235s were identified for replacement by a "larger more capable aircraft" to enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks. The Defence Capital Funding envelope of €416m over the 2018-2021 timeframe should allow for that, and although no specific aircraft has been identified as a replacement, the outstanding success of the current platform will more than likely mean that the newer Airbus C295MPA will be amongst the front runners in the selection process.
The harsh winter of 1962/3 was the catalyst leading to the acquisition of helicopters by the Air Corps, initially for search and rescue (SAR) purposes. Eight French-built Alouette 3s (photo right) were operated until 21st September 2007, when they were retired after an impressive 44 years' service. The troubles in Northern Ireland saw the introduction of the Cessna FR.172 aircraft (photo below), principally for patrol, reconnaissance and escort missions. These were initially based at Casement Aerodrome, but moved to Gormanston Aerodrome in County Meath in 1974. Following the closing of Gormanston in 2002, the Cessna’s returned to Casement and remain in service to this day.
The sole Learjet 45 was purchased in 2003 and is used for a variety of missions
The Air Corps took delivery of its first two AgustaWestland AW.139s in November 2006
In service with 301 Squadron, the IAC have six such aircraft in their inventory
One of Flying Training School's PC-9s is towed to the flightline at Casement for a morning training sortie
Basic Flying Trainingis where the student's flying skills are further developed and new disciplines are introduced such as instrument flying. The students also start to fly sorties using visual navigation and also conduct an element of night flying. This stage culminates with the Instrument Rating Test (IRT) where students demonstrate their proficiency at flying the aircraft solely by reference to the instruments within the cockpit.
The GASU's aircraft are deployed to a variety of incidents including:- Immediate threat to life; incidents of a criminal, terrorist or other nationally important nature; immediate threats of serious public disorder; tasks leading to the prevention or detection of crime; evidence gathering; intelligence gathering; photographic tasks and traffic management/monitoring. There have been rumours that the Defender has a number of issues affecting operational effectiveness, with claims that it is was virtually grounded and
Elementary Training commences with a Computer Based Training (CBT) programme covering all technical and operational aspects of the PC-9M aircraft. Once the CBT is completed, the cadets progress to conducting flying sorties on the PC-9M simulator, before flying the actual aircraft. The elementary phase starts with the very basics of flying and builds from here to culminate with the Elementary Handling Test (EHT) where students will demonstrate their newly acquired skills by performing a series of exercises including an aerobatic flight.
The Pilatus PC-9s are capable of carrying underwing mounted cannon and rocket pods as seen above
Maintenance of the rotary and fixed-wing fleets is conducted by IAC personnel at Casement
One of the AW.139s is seen undergoing some work on 14th May 2018
By far the largest aircraft in the IAC inventory is the Casa CN.235, one of which is seen above on the Casement apron
PC-9M #264 is seen taxying out for a training sortie at Casement in May 2018