Irish Air Corps / Aer Chór na hÉireann
With just over forty aircraft the Irish Air Corps, or Aer Chór na hÉireann, is one of the smallest Air Forces in Europe. Nevertheless the IAC uses several aircraft types, which makes it a varied an interesting Corps.
The Irish Air Corps was founded in 1922, as the Air Service, at Baldonnel just west of the Irish capitol Dublin. At the end of October 1922 the Air Service had an inventory which consisted of six Bristol FB2's, four Avro 504K's and a single Martinsyde Type A Mk.II. With the founding of No.1 Squadron, divided in an 'A' Flight (trainers) and a 'B' Flight (other types), the start of a serious Air Corps was a fact.
In 1924 the School of Aeronautics was founded, which took care of the basic-training of new pilots for the Air Corps. At the beginning of the thirties the Army Co-operation Squadron was formed. This squadron used the Vickers Vespa, later replaced by the Avro Anson 626A. T he latter were used for many purposes, including navigation-training, Arial photography and liaison flights. In 1937 the No.1 Reconnaissance and Medium Bombing Squadron was founded at Baldonnel, but had been disbanded by 1944 already. The task of this squadron and the in 1939 founded Coastal Patrol Squadron was taken over by the General Purpose Squadron. The name of the Army Co-operation squadron was in changed in January 1939 to No.1 Fighter Squadron.
Although Ireland had a neutral status during WW2, many aircraft participating in the war landed in Ireland during the conflict. Six of the aircraft that were forced to land in Ireland were taken into service by the Air Corps. Amongst them were three Hurricanes, which were used for a long time by the IAC. In 1956 the first jets were taken into service, in the form of six DeHavilland Vampire T.55's. The Vampires were used by the Fighter Squadron at Baldonnel-Casement Aerodrome.
The Irish Air Corps isn't an Air Force at his one, but a part of the Irish Army. De IAC consists of two Operations Wings and an Air Corps College. Within the wings there are different squadrons that with a different task, using one or more types. The IAC uses one airfield; Baldonnel-Casement.
1 Operations Wing
In order to control the coast of Ireland and fishery-protection, the 101 (Maritime) Squadron uses two CASA CN235-100M patrol aircraft. These two specific versions of the well-known CN235 are fitted with Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) and Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM) in the nose. Both aircraft can remain in the air for eight hours. Both aircraft were bought in 1995 after a period of testing with a leased transport version of the CN235. The latter was returned to CASA in 1995.
The 102 (Ministerial Air Transport Squadron) Squadron is responsible for transportation of the Prime-Minister of Ireland and the other Ministers. The squadron uses a G1159C Gulfstream IV, Lj45 and a Beech 200. The Beech is also being used for training new Gulfstream pilots. The Gulfstream was bought in 1992 when the BAe125 needed replacement. The Gulstream was the first aircraft in the IAC ever to make a transatlantic Flight. The Beech is only being used as a transport aircraft when the Gulfstream is not available.
The 104 (Army Co-operation) squadron, uses seven single-engined Cessna FR172s. Six of them are of the subtype FR172H and one is a FR172K. These aircraft are the 'workhorses' of the IAC and virtually used for anything. The Cessna's can be fitted up with four persons and are amongst other being used for border-patrol, liaison and training. The Cessna's can take off and land at short airstrips, which makes the aircraft suitable for many tasks. 106sq is the former fixed wing part of the Garda Air Support Unit and uses the BN-2 for patrols.
3 Operations Wing
The 301 (Search and Rescue) squadron was formed in 1962. The then used Alouettes have been replaced by AW139. The 302 (Army support) squadron uses the EC135P.
Air Corps College
The education and training of new pilots is being done by the Flying Training Squadron also based at Baldonnel-Casement. The PC-9M equipped Flying Training School covers the elementary flying training. For years the squadron used the De Havilland Chipmunk T20 and the De Havilland Provost T51 until these were replaced by the SF-260W in 1977 and later the PC-9M.
Garda Air Support Unit
The youngest unit, founded in 1997, within the Irish Forces is the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU). Although officially an Garda (civil police) unit and not an IAC unit, the fixed wing aircraft are flown by Air Corps personnel. The aircraft, an BN-2T-4S, EC135T1 and a AS355N are used for border-patrol and other GARDA missions and all operate out of Baldonnel.
The IAC had ordered the S-92 to fulfill the need for a transport helicopter but this order was cancelled after a dispute over the tender-process. In 2002 the structure of the IAC was reformed. Eight PC-9M have been delivered to replace the old SF260W. Besides that, two EC135P2 have been delivered to fulfil the Light Utility helicopter role, and AW139s to fill the Utility role. A further two AW139 (301sq) and single EC135 (GASU) are on order (Sep 2007).
Photo: Erwin van Dijkman