Among the latest aircraft to enter service with the Irish Air Corps is a pair of Eurocopter EC135P2s. Replacing the SA342L Gazelle, the EC135 is primarily in use for pilot training. Having gained their wings on the Pilatus PC-9M, pilots selected for rotary-wing training start in the EC135 with basic handling and navigation work, before undergoing instrument training. They then move on to winch training. Sling loading and fast-rope training are also undertaken on the EC135. Before the arrival of the EC135, these areas of training were divided between two aircraft, the Gazelle and the Alouette III. Now, for the first time, a new pilot will receive training in all these areas of rotary-wing flight in one aircraft type, thanks to the capabilities of the EC135. Secondary roles for the EC135 include VIP transport, air ambulance flights and fast-rope training for the Ranger Wing of the Irish Army.
While the Irish Air Corps already operated an EC135T2 on behalf of An Garda Siochana (the Irish Police), the model chosen for the Air Corps was the Pratt & Whitney-powered EC135P2. This version features similar engines to those used in the Beech King Air 200 and the Pilatus PC-9M. Both EC135s are fitted with FADEC, a weather radar, a fully-coupled autopilot and EFIS cockpit, along with a fully-integrated flight management system.
The instrument panel is black with the rest of the interior in light grey. Seats are light grey with black seatbelts. The floor is black, as are the cyclic and collective controls, and yaw control pedals. Externally, the overall colour is matt Olive Green (Humbrol No. 116) with various aerials in black or white.
The main rotor blades are ‘gunship grey’ with yellow tips. The fenestron blades are silver. The winch is black, with the skid undercarriage in very dark grey. A small roundel is painted on the sliding cabin doors, with the aircraft’s serial number and a tricolour on the tail-fin. ‘Eurocopter’ and ‘EC135’ titling feature on the engine housing and main rotor pylon, respectively. A single air ambulance kit has been delivered, along with a winch and one set of pop-out floats. The winch can be swapped between the machines as required. Wire-strike protection blades are fitted above and below the windscreen, with wire guides bolted onto the front of the standard low skids. The left skid footstep is kinked inwards under the cabin door. This allows the winch operator to stand on the skid and affords him an unobstructed view of the winchman below during winching manoeuvres. The winch is in the stowed position in the photographs here and swings outwards when in use. The aerial fit is standard for this type except for the large black aerial situated on the extreme tail. This is an aerial for the SINCGARS VHF radio system which is used for communications with ground vehicles.
The delivery of serial numbers 270 and 271 took place on 3 November 2005 and early operations saw the instructor pilots getting acquainted with the flying characteristics of the EC135 by way of a little hour-building. The next EC135 due for delivery to Baldonnel is an EC135T2 destined for the Garda Air Support Unit. Likely to be allocated the Air Corps serial number 272, it may now arrive in summer 2007.
Aerospatiale Gazelle SA342L No. 241 was retired at the end of December 2005 and the first four student pilots commenced training in the EC135 around March 2006, along with two of the Alouette III pilots, who were to convert onto the type. The EC135 is not likely to take over any of the roles of the Alouette fleet, the unenviable task of replacing the Alouette III falling to the AgustaWestland AW139, the first two of which were delivered on 28 November 2006. It is expected that the Alouettes will remain in operation until the final AW139 arrives at Baldonnel.
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