Military

Published on July 7th, 2015 | by Jim Lee

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Air Corps operational round up and White Paper update

 The Defence Forces and the Air Corps in particular, provide support for Departments and State agencies, across a broad range of non-security related roles. These include.

  • a general helicopter capability for a variety of tasks, including support to An Garda Síochána,
  • the provision of a fixed wing maritime patrol service,
  • a ministerial air transport service,
  • an air ambulance service on the basis of agreed arrangements with the Department of Health and
  • the provision of assistance to the principal response agencies, including the Irish Coast Guard, in relation to civil emergencies.

The process and preparation of the new White Paper on Defence provided an opportunity to examine critically future demands and consider how to best meet associated operational requirements, across the Defence Forces. On 30th June the Dáil was given the opportunity to discuss and make statements on the White Paper prior to its finalisation and submission to Government.

In his contribution, the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, said that working groups, comprising civil and military representatives from the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces, had considered likely future operational demands. On the equipment front, the immediate requirement is to ensure the Defence Forces can continue to undertake all the tasks required of them. This will require the replacement of significant equipment platforms over the lifetime of the White Paper, with the replacement of a further three ships, the replacement of aircraft and decisions to be made on the armoured personnel carrier fleet. This he said, would “require significant investment over the lifetime of the White Paper. The White Paper will also set out priorities for further investment should additional funding beyond that required to maintain existing capabilities become available. There is a very detailed section in the White Paper on finance which the Members will see when it is published”. He went on to say, that “all this will require a budget which will necessitate an incremental increase over time, and we are committing to a ten-year period for this”. “I recognise the constraints my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and his Department are under at the moment and we are realists about this, but we also want to ensure defence is part of the medium and long-term financial planning of this country” he added.

The question of the future operational roles of the Air Corps has also been considered in this context, but the Minister said that the Air Corps will continue to provide a broad range of supports to the state and its agencies. All this is very positive, but the devil will be in the detail and we will have to await publication of the White Paper to see how this will pan out. The Minister said he anticipates that the final draft of the White Paper would be submitted to Government by the end of July. Subject to Government approval, the White Paper will then be published, probably in September.

The Emergency Aeromedical Support Service (EAS)

On 11th June the Minister for Defence and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar confirmed that Emergency Aeromedical Support Service (EAS), targeted at the most seriously ill patients, who are at a distance from major acute hospitals, would be extended. The Air Corps provides the crews from ‘Number 3 Operations Wing’ to fly and maintain an Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter, which is based at Custume Barracks, in Athlone, while the National Ambulance Service provides the onboard Advanced Paramedic. The service has been a life saver for patients in remoter parts of the west and not surprisingly, since the downgrading of the local hospital, counties Roscommon and Mayo, have been amongst the highest for demand of the EAS services. Over one third of the over 1,000 missions undertaken have involved very serious and time-critical STEMI heart attacks. These patients need to be brought to a specialist cardiac catheter unit within 90 minutes of diagnosis by an ambulance crew and the EAS allows this to be done. A breakdown of mission undertaken in 2014 and to 31st May 2015, by county follows;

County

2014

2015

County

2014

2015

County

2014

2015

Carlow

4

0

Kilkenny

2

1

Offaly

24

11

Cavan

6

8

Laois

13

6

Roscommon

41

12

Clare

16

7

Leitrim

6

2

Sligo

13

3

Cork

10

2

Limerick

20

5

Tipperary

28

14

Donegal

14

17

Longford

21

6

Waterford

3

0

Dublin

0

0

Louth

5

4

Westmeath

19

3

Galway

34

11

Mayo

43

17

Wexford

0

0

Kerry

10

4

Meath

2

4

Wicklow

5

6

Kildare

2

2

Monaghan

12

2

TOTALS

353

147

‘Number 3 Operations Wing’

‘Number 3 Operations Wing’ is a very versatile unit and at the recent symposium on the White Paper in Farmleigh House on 15th May, an Agusta Westland AW139 was on display, fully armed but other equipment was also on display. The helicopter can carry loads such as the army’s 105mm light field guns with the use of a special sling. The helicopter also carries a 1,000-litre ‘Bambi Bucket’ which enables it to drop water on forest fires. This was put to good effect, most recently in April, to tackle a fire in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry. The fire had spread over several kilometres due to the dry conditions, but within an hour of receiving a request for assistance 10th April, the unit dispatched an AW139, which repeatedly made drops over the fire, refilling the bucket from the nearby Upper Lake. During its first sortie it dropped over 15,000 litres of water on the fire.

Minister Coveney inspects a bambi bucket in the company of Nrig Gen Paul Fry

Minister Coveney inspects a bambi bucket in the company of Brig Gen Paul Fry

The unit is also well known for its EAS and air ambulance role but it is also occasionally tasked with Ministerial/Government Air Transport (MATS) missions. In this role it carries a crew of three and five passengers in a VIP configuration. So far this year, it has only undertaken one such mission. This was on the 16th May, when an AW139 flew the Taoiseach from Castlebar to Haulbowline, with the aircraft positioning to and from Castlebar. For other roles, the aircraft is capable of carrying 12 passengers, or one crewman and nine troops with kit in a troop carrying configuration. In the military casevac configuration role, it can carry four stretchers and four or five walking wounded but for the civilian air ambulance role it is fitted with the quick-fit and quick-release Lifeport system. This includes a stretcher location, oxygen storage facilities and racks to support essential medical equipment. Even with this extra equipment, its crew, the patient, together with a doctor and a nurse, it has a 150-mile range with a 75-mile reserve. The fitting/removal of role equipment such the Lifeport system doesn’t take long and the aircraft can be quickly reconfigured by two personnel in around an hour.

EC-135 271 (IMG3961 JL)

Eurocopter EC-135 271 of the No.3 Operations Wing

Over the weekend of 17th-19th April, the unit transported an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team to the Aran Islands to dispose of an old marine flare and also carried out six air ambulance missions. The units smaller Eurocopter EC135 was used for the EOD mission to Iniseer.

Lest we forget

No review of Irish Air Corps helicopter operations would be complete without pausing to remember the tragic loss of Aerospatiale SA365Fi Dauphin II ‘248’. While operating out of Waterford as Rescue 111, it was lost together with its crew, Captain Dave O’Flaherty (DSM), Captain Mick Baker (DSM), Sergeant Paddy Mooney (DSM) and Corporal Niall Byrne (DSM) while fulfilling the motto of 3 Operations Wing “Go Mairidís Beo” (“that others might live”). 16 years have passed since that fateful morning on the 2nd of July 1999, when the helicopter crashed south of Waterford Airport in poor weather while returning from a Search and Rescue operation close to Helvick Head. As we remember them, our sympathies go out to their families, friends and colleagues. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.

In memory of DH248 (Rescue 111)

The crew of Rescue 111

‘Number 1 Operations Wing’

No1 Operations (Fixed Wing) Wing has also been kept busy on a variety of missions. Its 101 (Maritime Surveillance) Squadron, operating the two CASA CN235 aircraft, has primary responsibility to provide a surveillance capability over Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (maritime territory), in conjunction with the Irish Naval Service. The aircraft conduct daily patrols and relay data gathered with their sensor suite to Naval Service’ vessels. In 2014, the CASAs conducted 269 missions throughout the year. They are also used to fulfil a utility role and can be configured for air ambulance, cargo transfer, parachuting and other tasks in support of the Irish Defence Forces and other Government agencies. For maritime patrols, the aircraft are normally dispatched between 08:00 and 10:00, for a six hour patrol. However, to exploit extended daylight during summertime, double patrols may be performed, e.g. leaving at 07:00, returning at 13:00, and departing again after an hour’s turnaround to refuel and change crews. With the exception of double patrols, refuelling is not normally carried out post-mission. The aircraft are normally left fuel light until shortly before a mission, since, if an air ambulance is required, the aircraft may have to travel to a regional airport, where restricted runway length, makes aircraft landing or takeoff weight, an issue.

CASA 253 (IMG2724)

One consideration with CASAs is that they are sensitive to slopes, when being refuelled. Slopes can cause the aircraft to incline laterally, so aircraft can only be refuelled properly, when parked on level ground, or with their longitudinal axes along the centrelines of their respective bays. When parked elsewhere on the ramp, inclinations caused by the drainage profile of the ramp can cause fuel imbalances or under- or overfilling of aircraft tanks.

For air ambulance missions no reconfiguration is required for ambulatory patients. However if the patient requires a stretcher, then a partition, an observer’s seat and a raft launcher need to be removed and the anchor points for a stretcher to be installed. These tasks will take three personnel about an hour.

With the two CASAs in service since 1994, crews from No 1 wing got the opportunity, to examine at close hand, a Portuguese Air Force CASA CN295MPA, serial ‘16709’, which visited Baldonnel between 27th and 30th April. It arrived as the AFP65 at 15:23 on 27th and during its visit it performed two local maritime patrol demonstration missions the following day. For the first mission it departed at 12:20 and routed south towards Cork and then to position MAPAG before returning to land on runway 23 at Baldonnel at 14:12. The second flight took it out west towards Knock Airport and then flew low level along the west coast (departed 17:20 returned 20:00). A further mission was operated on the 29th departing at 15:00 and returning at 16:45. On the morning of the 30th, the aircraft finally departed at 10:12, again as the AFP65.

The Learjet 45 of 102 (Training and Transport) Squadron, is also a truly multi role aircraft and is equipped for a variety of utility missions, including MATS, air ambulance, non-combatant evacuation and strategic medical evacuation. For air ambulance missions, the aircraft is usually parked outside bay three of hangar five, to facilitate ambulance access to the ramp via the access road, while minimizing vehicle incursion onto the ramp area. If the patient involved is ambulatory, no change to the aircraft interior configuration is required. If the mission requires a stretcher, then some of the passenger seats must be removed and the Lifeport stretcher system fitted. This operation takes two or three personnel approximately one and a half hours.

Learjet (IMG3972 JL)

The Learjet 45 of 102 (Training and Transport) Squadron

For MATS missions, which can depart anytime from 0600 to 2300 and return at any time of the day or night. Flights are usually boarded on the VIP ramp, unless there is an overlap with a visiting aircraft, in which case the Learjet is parked on the ramp, outside bay three, of hangar five. The aircraft must be positioned on the VIP ramp one hour before departure. Refuelling of the aircraft is not done until one or two hours before dispatch. Toilet and galley are generally not serviced on return and the ramp crew assists with baggage loading and unloading.

UNSG Ban Ki Moon visit to the Curragh Camp

UNSG Ban Ki Moon during his visit to the Curragh Camp

On the 26th May, the Air Corps welcomed the U.N. Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to Casement Aerodrome for a short visit, before he departed to Brussels, with Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Seán Sherlock, on board the Learjet. The previous day, Minister Coveney welcomed him to the Defence Forces Training Centre, Curragh Camp, Co Kildare, on the second day of his visit to Ireland. During the visit a wide range of issues were discussed and the Minister briefed the Secretary General on progress in relation to Ireland’s initiative to support peacekeeper training, in a number of partner African countries, under the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership. While in the Curragh, the UN Secretary-General also paid a visit to the United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI), which hosts a number of programmes, which are also open to international students, and to date some 56 countries, representing all continents, have attended courses at the centre. Mr. Moon also planted a tree to mark the 60th Anniversary of Ireland’s membership of the United Nations.

24/7 Operational capability

Baldonnel now maintains a 24/7 air traffic control and support capability, including ‘ramp’ support. Aircraft are fuelled and loaded while on the ramp and limited first line maintenance is also conducted there. Each unit operates its own ramp maintenance crew, with the specific skill sets and human resources required, to fulfil their mission and tasks for the aircraft, and nature of operation in their unit. For example; personnel from No1 Wing are qualified for maintenance on their fixed wing aircraft, but not on helicopters.

No1 Wing operates day, night and weekend ramp crews. Daytime aircraft ground handling and first line maintenance is carried out by a four-person ramp crew, consisting of a Sergeant (crew leader) and three others of Corporal or Airman rank. From Monday to Friday, the duty period for day crews is from 09:00 to 19:00. After-hours aircraft ground handling is carried out by a crew with the same composition as the early crew. Night crews begin their duty period at 19:00 with a hand-over from the day crew, and, in turn, hand over to the next day crew at 09:00 the following morning. There is also a weekend ramp crew, but because there are fewer air operations at weekends or on bank holidays, the duty period for the ramp crew at weekends is 09:00 Saturday to 09:00 Sunday, and 09:00 Sunday to 09:00 Monday. The duties of these 24-hour ramp crews incorporate those for both day and night weekday ramp crews. Before 16:30 each weekday. a No 1 Ops Wing planning proforma, is compiled and supplied to the day crew. This document details the air movements for the next day and crew uses this to update the whiteboard in the crew room, which forms the basis of the hand-over to the night crew at 19:00. The Friday afternoon proforma covers Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

No.3 Operations Wing has similar arrangements, although daytime helicopter ground handling and first line maintenance, is carried out by a two person ramp crew, consisting of a Corporal (crew leader) and an Airman. Each day an Inspector is rostered to assist the tech crew until 22:00. Late crews begin their duty period at 16:00 with a hand-over from the day crew, and, in turn, hand over to the next day crew at 08:00 the following morning.

Air Corps College – Flight Training School

PC-9M 266 on its dedicted ramp area (IMG3906)

Pilatus PC-9M 266 of the Air Corps Flight Training School

The Flying Training School (FTS) is the squadron within the Air Corps College, responsible for the training and education of all Cadets. Its primary roles are to conduct, Ab initio flying training, Advanced pilot training, Instructor Pilot Training and Close Air Support. The PC-9M is tasked to operate these roles, and each day, four training slots for four aircraft are scheduled, to cater for the flying training syllabus. The first slot is scheduled to be airborne at 09:30 and the last slot airborne at 15:30. All PC9M aircraft must be prepared and parked in position 30 minutes before the aircraft is scheduled to be airborne. Arrangements for ramp crews are broadly similar to the other units detailed above.

All aircraft are boarded at the FTS ramp area. Refuelling of the aircraft is carried out during the turnaround inspection and after the final flight of the day. The PC9M operations are dispatched from and return to the one location on the ramp adjacent to the FTS buildings and hangar 1.

An air firing exercise is held for 3 weeks each year. Two armed aircraft are required for an air firing exercise and are armed while pointed to the berm constructed behind their dedicated parking area. Two Ordnance technicians are required for the arming of the aircraft in addition to the aircraft technicians.

Unlike the aircraft tasked with MATS or air ambulance, overseas operations by the PC-9s occur infrequently although for the night photo-shoot held at RAF Northolt on 5th March, PC-9M serial ‘260’, was in attendance.

N867EX Cessna 208B Caravan Baldonnel 250615 (Gerry Barron)

With the Minister’s reference to the “replacement of aircraft” it was perhaps no co-incidence that N867EX, the Cessna 208B ‘Special Mission’ Caravan demonstrator visited Baldonnel on 25th June on its way back from the Paris air show. While in Baldonnel it operated a number of ‘familiarisation’ flights . By Gerry Barron.

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About the Author

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Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.



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