The Easter Rising of 1916 was the most significant uprising in Ireland against Britain since the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798, and is generally regarded as the first time that an Irish Republic was declared. A century on and the Irish Air Corps took part in a series of flypasts across the Republic of Ireland to mark the centenary. Paul Harvey and Don Cashen bring this report for AeroResource.
IAC History and Organisation
The Irish Air Corps (IAC) formed in 1924 following the reorganisation of the National Army Air Service (established in June 1922), and today is solely based at Casement Aerodrome outside Dublin and is the air component of the Permanent Defence Forces of Ireland.
The IAC has a primary role of supporting both the Irish Army and Navy, as well as the protection of Irish airspace. As part of the European Union, the IAC fulfils Ireland’s obligations by patrolling over 300,000 square kilometres of sea and coastline. Currently the Air Corps has 27 aircraft on strength comprising 17 fixed-wing and 10 rotary, supported by approximately 750 personnel. In recent years there has been a drive to upgrade and reequip the IAC with modern aircraft to make it a much more capable and effective force.
The IAC is split into four Wings – 1 and 3 Operations Wing and 4 and 5 Support Wing.
1 Operations Wing is solely responsible for operating the fixed-wing assets of the Air Corps. Currently this entails seven Pilatus PC-9M, two CASA CN235-100M, five Cessna Reims FH172H Rockets plus a single Learjet 45 and Britten-Norman Defender – the latter being flown on behalf of the Garda Air Support Unit (GASU).
3 Operations Wing is solely responsible for operating the rotary assets of the Air Corps which currently stands at six AgustaWestland AW139, two Eurocopter EC135 P2 and two Eurocopter EC135 T2. As with 1 Wing’s Defender, the EC135 T2s are operated on behalf of the GASU and as such are painted accordingly.
4 Wing carry out all second line maintenance (with front line maintenance carried out by the Engineering Squadrons of both Wings – 103 and 303 for 1 and 3 Wings respectively). The wing is composed of 401 Squadron and 402 Squadron, who provide mechanical and avionics support respectively.
5 Wing carry out logistic and administration tasks including Air Traffic Control (505 Squadron), Logistic Support (502 Squadron), Transport (503 Squadron), Medical Services (504 Squadron) and crash rescue services.
There are two additional units within the IAC – the Communication and Information Services (CIS) Squadron, who are responsible for dealing with communications, navigation and information technology equipment plus the systems that are required by the Air Corps, and the Air Corps College that is the main training unit.
Easter Rising Centenary
We were very privileged to be invited by the Air Corps to witness their contribution to the Centenary Anniversary celebrations held over the Easter weekend of March 27-28, 2016. We made two visits to Casement, for the practice and rehearsal on March 15, and then for the actual event on March 28, for the Easter Monday portion of the celebrations.
The two days went very much the same with some minor variations, on the practice day the first to launch where the CASA CN235-100M and Learjet 45, flying under the formation callsign ‘Condor’. These two larger platforms were followed by the rotary section comprising of three AW139s led by an EC135 P2 callsign ‘Raven’. Following the rotary element of the formation were six PC-9Ms (callsign ‘Eagle’) with three FH-172Hs, using the callsign ‘Hawkeye’, bringing up the rear.
The rehearsals took place over the Curragh training ground well away from prying eyes – not surprising given that the PC-9s were recently fitted with a smoke generating system, and the Air Corps intended to maintain this as surprise for the main Easter Sunday parade. The only indication that the smoke system was active was when the machine’s returned to base, two were now a shade of green and two a shade of orange – before being quickly surrounded by cleaning teams to be washed down!
The main flypast on Easter Sunday (March 27) over Dublin City centre saw very blustery weather conditions, but the formations still looked very polished – especially so when ‘Condor’ and ‘Eagle’ formations joined to fly an eight ship flypast, with the Learjet 45 in the lead, followed by the CN235 flanked by three PC-9s on each side trailing smoke.
March 28 saw the formation preform flypasts over several Irish towns and cities. Unfortunately, the Learjet 45 did not fly, and so ‘Condor’ formation was made up solely of the CN235 flying as a single ship. ‘Raven’ formation again consisted of the EC135 P2, but was bolstered by an extra AW139 making a total of four examples of the type. ‘Hawkeye’ was now up to four FH-172H and ‘Eagle’ formation was now up to all seven PC-9s still operational. On return to Casement all of the formations flew a number of flypasts with the PC-9 formation performing a very personal show of several formation passes for the few members of media on base. It was also for the maintenance crews, who had worked so hard to put all seven of the air arms PC-9Ms into the air – the first time this feat had been achieved by the IAC. This was truly a fabulous maximum effort from all the Irish Air Corps ground crews across the wings to get so many aircraft serviceable and available for a historic few days.
On return we chatted to the aircrew and maintenance personnel who were justifiably proud of the work, effort and professionalism shown by the whole Irish Air Corps team. The planning for the Easter Celebrations took some five years with the Air Corps playing a major role, not just in the air but also within the planning and security for the event, as well and various ground roles.
Thanks must go Captain Sean McCarthy and Sergeant Jimmy Hales for their help and cooperation in preparation of this article – particularly to Jimmy who looked after us on both days.