On the 26th November 2013 the Air Corps celebrate the 50th anniversary of helicopter aviation in the Irish Air Corps.
The pioneering pilots of the Air Corps introduced rotary aviation to Ireland when they flew two Alouette III helicopters from France to Ireland, landing in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, on the 26th November 1963.
The arrival of these helicopters, callsigns ‘A195’ and ‘A196’, signaled the establishment of ‘Helicopter Flight’ and committed the Air Corps to the development of a national daytime Search and Rescue(SAR) for the State. This new tasking saw the Air Corps complete its first Search and Rescue mission on the 23rd of December 1963, only three weeks after the service had gone operational, with the first air ambulance flown in February 1964.
Since these first life-saving missions the Helicopter Wing, now called No. 3 Operations Wing, have performed over 2,300 SAR missions and 4,000 air ambulances, saving countless lives. This has lead to No 3 Operations Wing being the most decorated Unit in the Defence Forces, with 22 Distinguished Service Medals, 12 Department of Marine Meritorious Medals, as well as two coveted French Federation Aeronautique Internationales’s’Diplome D’Honneur’ for humanitarian service and the Irish Air line Pilots Association ‘Fitzmaurice’ award for services to Irish aviation.
Over the last five decades the helicopter wing has continued to represent the dedication, professionalism, loyalty and courage of the pioneering pilots of the 1960s. In 1986 the introduction of the Dauphin II helicopter began a new era for SAR operations in Ireland allowing the Air Corps to introduce a 24 hour SAR service to the State.
In 1997 the Unit commenced operations with the dedicated Garda Air Support Unit at Casement Aerodrome and to this day exclusively provide pilots, technicians and an operating base for An Garda Síochána.
In December 2008 the Air Corps pioneered the introduction of Night Vision aided flight to the State. They now use Night Vision Goggles to assist on its national and international air ambulance transfer service which it operates 24/7. It is the only service in the State that has this leading edge capability.
In 2009 the introduction of the under-slung ‘bambi-bucket’ system enabled the Air Corps to assist in tackling large fires from the air. This capability was proven in May 2011 when the AW 139s dropped millions of litres of water on fires in Donegal and Mayo.
In June 2012 the air ambulance operation has expanded to include the new inter-agency Emergency Aeromedical Service pilot scheme based in Custume Barracks, Athlone. In the 18 months since the introduction of this pilot scheme the Air Corps has answered over 800 callouts on behalf of the citizens of Ireland.
Young and old members of the Air Corps celebrated this momentous anniversary on Friday 21st November with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in Baldonnel. The plaque was presented to No 3 Operations Wing by the Irish Mine Rescue Committee and represents the diversity of the Air Corps interaction with outside agencies and the strong working relationship formed with these bodies. The event was attended by serving and retired members of the Helicopter Wing, and included some of the crews that brought the original aircraft to Ireland in 1963.
Over the past 50 years the Air Corps has been an invaluable support to the wider Defence Forces and has made a significant contribution to the security of the State and the common good of Irish society.
The men and women of No 3 Operations Wing are a testament to the Air Corps’ motto Forḟaire agus Tairiseaċt ("Watchful and Loyal").
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