Engineers play a crucial role in the Air Corps and the other branches of the Defence Forces – the Army and the Navy. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Moran explains the role of engineers in the Air Corps and the opportunities ahead

“The Defence Forces are made up of three separate elements – the Army, the Navy and the Air Corps. As the names suggest, the first is land-focused, the second is sea-focused and the last is air-focused. The ‘establishment’, which is the ceiling on the number of personnel we’re allowed to recruit, is 886 for the Air Corps. We’re not at that strength – we’re down to 692 at the moment,” said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Moran of the OC No 4 Support Wing, Irish Air Corps.

“There are different methods by which personnel can enter the Air Corps. You can come in as an Officer (a cadetship) or as a non-officer (trainee technician or a recruit). The cadetship is normally for pilot officers and we generally take in about ten cadets a year. We advertise the Air Corps positions nationally and the successful applicants start their initial training with other Defence Forces cadets in the Curragh, County Kildare before returning to Baldonnel to complete their Wings course.

“Last year, the full cadet intake was increased significantly to over one hundred personnel across the three branches, and they’re going for a similar number this year again.”

But that is only one method for Officer intakes. The second is direct entry, which is less common than it used to be. This is where the Air Corps recruit qualified engineers from the civilian population to work as engineers in the Air Corps. “Our method of selection has changed somewhat. We don’t now take as many direct entries from the public anymore,” said Moran. “We now canvas for qualified personnel within the Officer Corps of the entire Defence Forces. We recently took in six engineers into the Air Corps and they were all Officers in the Defence Forces already. Three of them were graduates, but weren’t working as engineers. The other three were working as engineers.”

The former is the most common type of transfer by far – members who are qualified engineers but not practising in their current roles, according to Moran. At that time, vacancies were advertised and people working in the other branches of the Defence Forces applied for the job. The greater people’s experience, the less common it would be to see a transfer like that between branches, he noted.

Aircraft maintenance at the Casement Aerodrome

Aircraft maintenance at the Casement Aerodrome

“In October 2015, we took on those six people so they’re currently in year two of a three-year program. The establishment, or ceiling, for engineers within the Air Corps is 24 – that’s made up of 18 Aeronautical Engineers, two Corps of Engineers who look after the structural maintenance on the Airbase and then four CIS [computer and information services] engineers.

“We’re currently short one Aeronautical Engineer. Of course, it’s difficult to put a program together for just one person. The Air Corps recruits engineers when the need arises.”

The Air Corps recently dedicated a stained-glass window in the chapel in Casement Aerodrome to Defence Forces Engineers who passed away

The Air Corps recently dedicated a stained-glass window in the chapel in Casement Aerodrome to Defence Forces Engineers who passed away

A unique ethos

An engineering role in the Air Corps is exciting and diverse but it is not your typical engineering role. Moran explained: “Engineers in the Air Corps must wear two separate hats: they must be engineers, but they also must be capable of being Officers in the Defence Forces. The have to demonstrate their leadership ability as well as firing weapons, being medically and physically fit and have a willingness to serve overseas. There are a number of criteria that are peculiar to this job and your Commission as an Officer in the Defence Forces is a legally binding document. We have a whole set of legal requirements of military law above and beyond the civil law that you are required to operate under.”

“There’s a whole different ethos. So when we’re selecting, we very much have in mind the fact the every engineer is an Officer first and foremost. So that’s what we are looking for – technically competent engineers who can be Officers.”

The Air Corps primarily looks for mechanical, electronic, electrical and aeronautical engineers. They also accept a mechatronics qualification. Applicants for the Defence Forces need to meet one of the following criteria:

  • Irish citizens;
  • A refugee under the Refugee Act 1996;
  • Nationals of EEA States, i.e. the European Economic Area, which consists of the member states of the European Union along with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway; or
  • Nationals of any other state who are lawfully present in Ireland and have had five years lawful and unbroken residency in the State.

“We’re actively trying to promote diversity and a gender balance within the Defence Forces,” explained Moran. “A number of pilots are graduate engineers as well. Some have been here on work placements while studying engineering and then applied to become cadet pilots.”

Over the last ten years, cadet selection has given extra selection points to graduates, but for the past two years that has not been the case – where now school leavers and graduates are now marked equally.

A plaque in the chapel

A plaque in the chapel

Engineers are needed throughout the Defence Forces. The Navy has a bigger cadre of engineering requirements – electrical and mechanical engineers – than the Air Corps and the Army has three separate engineering disciplines:

  • The Corps of Engineers, who require civil and structural engineers who are deployed in battlefield engineering including mine clearing and building pontoon bridges as well as the maintenance of buildings and services;
  • CIS (communications and information services); and
  • Ordnance, which deals with weapons and bomb disposal

“The engineering expertise built up by Ordnance engineers has made Ireland  an international leader in its knowledge of bomb disposal,” noted Moran.

The policy governing the Defence Forces is set out in the Government white paper on defence. The latest version (published in 2015) (PDF) sets an establishment of 9,500 for the Defence Forces. The current figure is 9,100. The Army is recruiting heavily this year.

Serving overseas and retention issues

Until recently, it was Government policy not to deploy any naval or air assets in support of our overseas missions. That changed in 2015, when the Government deployed a ship in the Mediterranean to assist with the refugee crisis.

“Before that, overseas operations were largely land-centric and carried out by the Army,” stated Moran. “Members of the Air Corps have the option of volunteering for an overseas mission as part of an Army Unit. The Air Corps has just sent 19 members of a 150-person UNDOF mission to Syria but, in a typical year, only a handful of Air Corps members would serve overseas.

“Air assets have not yet been used in overseas missions but there may be opportunities in the future,” he added.

Retention is an issue for pilots, engineers and technicians alike. The Air Corps has qualified, experienced and well-trained engineers and technicians that are sought after not only in the aviation sphere, but in other technical and management spheres as well.

“Ireland’s aviation industry is very big in comparison to the size of the country. We have Ryanair, the biggest operator in Europe, based in Dublin, we have the management of half the leased aircraft in the world based in Ireland,  and  we have the Irish Aviation Authority  who manage a significant portion of international air traffic”, said Moran. These large and successful organisations are manned by a lot of ex-Air Corps people. Ryanair and Aer Lingus have a lot of former Air Corps personnel, both technical and pilots. Add that to the popularity of some of the aircraft that we’re operating – the AW139 helicopter is used a lot in the Middle East and also the North Sea oil-rigs and you can see that there is a high demand for all of the technical skill sets associated with the Air Corps.

“Due to the changing nature of contractual arrangements people are less likely than in previous decades to stay for full careers in the Air Corps. Now they use their time in the military to enhance their experience profile – it’s something that looks good on their CV. We pride ourselves on the professionalism of our training, on our objective-orientated focus and our can-do attitudes.

“As has been rightly pointed out by Engineers Ireland when talking about their mentoring and coaching programs, some 70% of how you learn is in the company of others within your work environment – there’s a mentoring element and then a formalised element. The vast bulk of how you learn is through your cohorts.” Having an internationally recognised standard of excellence and a formalised mentoring programme, means that our engineers receive excellent training.

Lead times to recruit and train personnel are an issue: from selection to getting somebody out on the hangar floor could take upwards of five years. “This problem is well-known in the Air Corps and we’re looking at ways to reduce the impact, which could involve some increased civilianisation of elements such as maintenance.”

The restored Marchetti Panel, which was once used as a training aid, at the Air Corps Museum

The restored Marchetti Panel, which was once used as a training aid, at the Air Corps Museum

Innovation in the Defence Forces

As well as Engineering Director one of Moran’s other portfolios is the inculcation of innovation within the Defence Forces. “In 2011, the Defence Forces were formally tasked with trying to support the Government innovation and growth strategy. I’ve been the Air Corps’ representative on the Defence Forces co-ordination body since 2011. The Air Corps has supported a number of Innovations from both the academic and industrial spheres. The Air Corps recently signed a service level agreement with the Marine Institute to use our Maritime aircraft to support research in the marine environment. We have also offered our technical expertise and guidance in new innovations in aviation safety, human factors training and satellite communications.

Moran is no doubts about why he enjoys working in the Air Corps. “One of the best things about working in the Defence Forces is the calibre of individuals, the quality of the training and the variety of tasks,” he concluded. HarringtonMechcareer,Defence Forces Army,Irish Air Corps
“The Defence Forces are made up of three separate elements – the Army, the Navy and the Air Corps. As the names suggest, the first is land-focused, the second is sea-focused and the last is air-focused. The ‘establishment’, which is the ceiling on the number of personnel we’re allowed...