The Irish Air Corps (Irish: Aer Chór na hÉireann) is the air component of Irish Defence Forces (Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann) providing support to the Army and Naval Service, together with roles such as Search and Rescue and the Ministerial Air Transport Service. The principal airbase is Casement Aerodrome located at Baldonnel.
Irish Air Service:
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 in order 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 Air Service arriving in June 1922. By the end of 1922 the Air Service comprised of ten aircraft (including six Bristol F2B fighters from the First World War), and about 400 men.
The Air Corps:
With the establishment of the Defence Forces in 1924 the Air Service became the new Armys Air Corps and remained part of the Army unit 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.
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. 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.
1955 Defence Forces image of IAC de Havilland Vampires
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. 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 early 1963 the Corps took delivery of its first helicopters, SA.316B Alouette IIIs, of which seven remained in service at the start of the 21st century. 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 One replicas, owned by ex-RCAF fighter pilot Lynn Garrison's "Blue Max Aviation", was based at 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 coordinating 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 six SA 365N Dauphin II were acquired for the SAR role.
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 three Beechcraft 200 Super King Airs for this duty. However, two of the Super King Airs were disposed of in the 1990s, and the third was allocated to transport duties. Two CASA C235-100 maritime patrol aircraft now undertake these patrols - and were upgraded in 2006/2007 by EADS CASA to the 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.
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 ejector seats since the Vampire.
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.
On 12 October 2009 an Air Corps instructor, Captain Derek Furniss, and Cadet David Jevens were killed when their Pilatus PC-9 crashed during a training exercise in Connemara, County Galway.
Beechcraft Super King Air
Cessna 172 Skyhawk
Eurocopter EC 135
In addition, the IAC operates on behalf of the national police force's Garda Air Support Unit:
Eurocopter EC 135T2
Britten-Norman Defender 4000
Recent equipment retirements:
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 collector 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 September 21, 2007.
The Eurocopter Ecureuil helicopter of the Garda Air Support Unit was replaced by a second Eurocopter EC 135 in January 2008.
The Air Corps' ranks are similar to those of the Irish Army. The strength is 850 all ranks.