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Irish Air Corps experts travel to US to share their helicopter experiences with American pilots

The Irish Air Corps experts travelled to Wyoming in the US to advise the US 20th Air Force on the adoption of the Grey Wolf helicopter.

The Irish Air Corps AW-139 is a similar variant of the US Grey Wolf chopper.
The Irish Air Corps AW-139 is a similar variant of the US Grey Wolf chopper.
Image: Irish Defence Forces

IRISH AIR CORPS personnel who work on the helicopter fleet have travelled to the US to help US Air Force crews adjust to a new aircraft. 

The trip at the start of August saw three Air Corps experts visit the 20th Air Force at FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

The Air Corps team, led by Col. David Corcoran, Chief Air Staff Operations, with Commandant Colin Duffy, a specialist in Ratings and Standards and Sergeant Matthew Carroll, a Rear Crew Instructor went there to share lessons learned by the Irish Air Corps on the AW 139.

The 20th Air Force are set to replace their aging Huey helicopter fleet with the new and hugely advanced MH 139 Grey Wolf – a variant of the Irish AW 139. They are set to take delivery of more than 80 aircraft in a massive investment. 

The Irish Air Corps have been using the AgustaWestland chopper since 2006 as a general purpose “Swiss Army Knife” platform for everything from air ambulance missions, to wildfire fighting to Army Ranger Wing Special Operations. 

This expertise and experience, Col David Corcoran said, was what caught the eye of the US aviators. 

“We use the aircraft a little bit like a Swiss Army Knife. It is a multi-role, multi-functional multi-mission helicopter. And we use it in a wide range of tasks,” he said.

Corcoran said that the way the Irish Air Corps use the helicopter is identical to the missions the US will use it for – it is a utility transport aircraft.

Night vision

As the 20th Air Force have been using the aged Huey helicopter, which began flying in the 1960s, the new Grey Wolf aircraft will have a more modern display cockpit. This creates challenges for pilots more used to a traditional cockpit which has dials as opposed to lighted screens. 

The Irish pilots were able to discuss the methods they use to fly at night with the US pilots and show them techniques they have developed to use night vision goggles.

This was just one example, Corcoran said, in which the the Irish Air Corps pilots were able to impart experience and knowledge to the US personnel.  

Col Corcoran 3 Colonel David Corcoran on board one of the US helicopters with a US pilot. Source: Irish Defence Forces

“That’s something not too many organisations have mastered. We’ve been operating with night vision since 2008.

“We were able to engage professionally with our fellow aviators in the Air Force, and deal with them in a way in which we have experience and understanding how to operate and use the technology,” he explained. 

There were also discussions with pilots about how the Air Corps utilise the aircraft and convert or adapt the airframe to the various missions such as medical evacuation flights and special forces operations. 

Matthew Carroll also discussed aspects such as fire support missions with weaponry and also Colin Duffy discussing the protocols for safe flying. 

irish-air-corps-members-visit-f-e-warren Sgt. Eric Jensen, of the 582nd Operations Support Squadron, explains a virtual reality weapons system to Commandant Colin Duffy from the Irish Air Corps, during an immersion into helicopter operations. Source: US Air Force

The weeklong trip also included an opportunity to fly the UH-1N Huey at night and by day. 

Corcoran told The Journal that he has been in the Air Corps for the last 33 years and he believes that the AW 139 has been a success story for the service. 

Corcoran said: “Before we had the aircraft we had very limited capabilities in terms of flying operations – when you talk about the original Alouette (helicopter).

“We set about introducing high levels of technology, using night vision goggles capability to enhance the capabilities of the Defence Forces and the Air Corps in particular.

“I think this aircraft has brought about a quantum shift and the capabilities of the Air Corps across all our missions, which support all the government departments, whether that be Justice, Housing, Health, the Coast Guard, Department of Transport, the Army, the Navy, or any of the various Departments we supply and support across government.”

The trip came about after 20th Air Force commanding officer Major General Michael Lutton visited the Air Corps Headquarters in Casement Aerodrome in south County Dublin. 

That set in train a chance for the Irish and the US Air Force to begin liaising about the new helicopters. 

It is not the first international relationship by the Defence Forces – recently the Air Corps were able to assist the Armed Forces of  Malta as they took delivery of the AW139 aircraft. 

Corcoran said there were a lot of conversations about many of the air crews’ Irish ancestry but also the general shared experiences of military aviators.

While there they were granted unprecedented access which included night and day formation flying to see how the US uses their helicopters. 

International cooperation

Corcoran said that the US trip is just one example of the huge benefits of the international co-operation between different countries with US aviators set to travel to Ireland.

“There was a very strong emphasis throughout on the safety of flying operations. And of course, there was a very strong emphasis coming from Major General Lutton and all his staff that they wanted to provide any assistance they could to the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Air Corps as we move forward. It was a huge compliment for the Defence Forces to be invited there. 

“I didn’t see this as a one way street, it was something that they would look to share and grow and develop,” he added. 

irish-air-corps-members-visit-f-e-warren US Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force, Jeremy Prichard, historian for 20 AF chatting to the Irish aviators at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. Source: US Air Force

For his part Major General Lutton, in a statement, hailed the visit by the Irish aviators.  

“Cross-talks like this serve the valuable purpose of fostering ties between partner nations, but this one has an extra, added benefit to the helicopter group and squadrons of 20th Air Force.

“Since the Irish Air Corps has been flying a variant of our ‘Grey Wolf’ for about 16 years, we can share operational and tactical-level concepts to lead-turn the onboarding of our new aircraft at our bases. We also look forward to members of the helicopter group travelling to Ireland this fall to continue our partnership,” he said.

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