Air Corps wing on top of the world with 50th anniversary
AFTER 50 years in the skies the helicopter wing of the Air Corps has become the most decorated unit in the Defence Forces.
Its pioneering pilots introduced rotary aviation to this country when they flew two Alouette III helicopters here from France, landing in Casement aerodrome in Baldonnel, Co Dublin, on November 26, 1963.
Now known as the No 3 operations wing, it has since saved countless lives by performing more than 2,300 search and rescue missions and 4,000 air ambulance journeys.
Its efforts have been recognised through 22 distinguished service medals, a dozen Department of Marine meritorious medals, two highly coveted French Federation Aeronautique Internationales' diplome d'honneur for humanitarian service and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association Fitzmaurice award for services to Irish aviation.
In 1986 the introduction of the Dauphin II helicopter allowed the Air Corps to provide a round-the-clock search and rescue service to the State and, 11 years later, the Garda Air Support Unit was born with the Air Corps supplying the pilots and technicians as well as an operating base at Baldonnel.
For the past five years the Air Corps has been using night vision goggles on its national and international air ambulance transfers and it is the only service in the State with this leading-edge capability. The Air Corps was enabled to assist in tackling large fires when it was equipped with the underslung 'bambi bucket' in 2009.
Eighteen months ago its air ambulance operation was expanded. Based in Athlone, it has answered more than 800 callouts.
Meanwhile, Defence Alan Shatter highlighted the role played by UN troops in maintaining peace and security in south Lebanon, despite increased instability in the region.
Mr Shatter was at the UN post 2-45 for the handover of the command of the joint battalion, formerly led by the Irish, to the Finns.