Au revior Alouette! Slán agus go raibh maith aguit!
Today, Friday 21st September 2007 is a sad day for Irish avation as the Irish Air Corps formally retired their Alouette III helicopters, bringing an end to a remarkable era of Irish aircraft history.
The Alouettes were first delivered in 1963, and shortly after the fleet grew to 8 airframes. In the intervening 44 years, they have been the backbone (and most of the vital organs) of the Air Corps inventory, and have given sterling service to the Defence Forces and the country as a whole. Roles as varied as SAR, air ambulance, army support, army co-operation, troop transport, Border patrol, security, policing, customs, VIP and even naval support have been tasked. If it can be done by helicopter, the Alouettes delivered.
If there was just one aircraft that has epitomised the Irish Air Corps in it's entire history since 1922, it has been the Sud Aviation/Aerospatiale Alouette III. To most Irish people, the common Irish TV News term 'an Air Corps Helicopter' MEANS the Alouette. A senior Defence Forces Officer commented recently that during a run of a TV documentary show called 'Reeling in the years' (newsreel/TV news clips married with contemporary popular music from the years 1960-1999, divided into 4 series one for each decade) the only item/person/vehicle/thing that was common to and appeared in all four series was the Alouette, usually playing a prominent role in whatever story it was involved in. Such was it's importance.
They have outlived all their replacements and succesors. The Puma, Gazelles and Dauphins are gone before them, along with the fixed wing Fougas and Siai-Marchettis. They are not really being replaced as the Air Corps now has only 2 Eurocopter EC-135s and 2 AW-139s. The improving security situation in the North as well as the outsourcing of SAR to a contractor means the old timers are no longer needed (apparently!) Of the eight, none were lost in the 44 years, although one did ditch in a lake, and although recovered, now lives in the Air Corps Museum. I can only think of one other helo that has had a similar service life, the H-46, but I don't know if the current airframes are of similar age. Of it's fixed wing counterparts from that time, only the B-52 springs to mind of still being around.
I have one model built using the Heller kit and Max Decals, but it was done many years ago when I was just getting back into the hobby and is not of my current standard. (I also have no decent picture of it). I intend to strip it and build it again, but after I start the one in the stash, which will happen this weekend. Incidentally, the Pink Panther/RIAT badge is included on the Max Decals Sheet 72-16, and the Irish Alouette also features on their sheets 72-01 and 72-04. Instead I present some pictures I have taken of the Alouettes over the last couple of years. Some were taken at the Salthill Airshow 2006 and others at the Air Corps Families' Day in 2007.
Just my little tribute to what is to us a very important piece of this country's fabric.
Thanks for taking the time to read!
Roy McKay (aka roym)
Photos and text © by Roy McKay