The Pioneers

Irish aviation pioneers included Harry Ferguson, who made the first flight in the country at Magilligan Strand, Lough Foyle in 1909; Lilian Bland, Ireland's first woman pilot whose pioneer biplane, Mayfly, achieved lift-off in Co. Antrim in 1910; Lady Mary Heath, the first woman to hold the British Ministry of Aviation's commercial licence and who established a world altitude record for light aircraft, and  Colonel James Fitzmaurice of the Air Corps who, with Captain Hermann Koehl and Gunther Freiherr von Hunefeld crewed the Bremen monoplane on the first east-west crossing of the Atlantic in 1928.

The Australian Charles Kingsford Smith in the Southern Cross took off from Portmarnock strand near Dublin on the second successful crossing in 1930 with Irishman Paddy Saul as navigator.

In 1932 the British pioneer Jim Mollison took off from the same location to complete the first solo east-west Atlantic crossing.

Due to its status as part of the United Kingdom and its consequent involvement in that country's wars, aviation in Northern Ireland was to develop a markedly military orientation. Aircraft construction in the Province dates from World War I but reached its apogee in World War II, when many aerodromes, flying boat bases and landing fields were brought into use. Military aviation on a lesser scale was inaugurated with establishment of the Irish Free State and has been employed regularly in support of the civil power.

Though Éire remained neutral during the 1939-45 hostilities there were some 200 crashes or forced landings by American, British and German aircraft in the State and its territorial waters. The Air Corps provided salvage teams and both British and German survivors were interned at the Curragh, Co. Kildare.

The first recorded fatal crash of a civil aircraft in Ireland occurred in May 1933 off Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Aer Lingus lost a DC3 near Shannon in 1946, fortunately without loss of life, and subsequent fatal crashes involved DC3 St Kevin in North Wales (1952) and the disappearance of Viscount St Felim off the Tuskar Rock (1968), a disaster not yet satisfactorily explained. The cargo airline Aer Turas lost a Bristol freighter and its crew of two on approach to Dublin Airport on 12 June 1967. A Trans World Airlines Constellation crashed on approach at Shannon in December 1946.

Shannon rescue services were also involved in major offshore crashes including the loss of an Air India Boeing 747 off the Kerry coast in 1985, the world's worst aviation disaster to that date, killing 329 passengers and crew. The first SAR (search and rescue) facility was introduced in 1964 in Dublin Bay by the Air Corps, employing an Alouette III helicopter. Helicopters have since played an important role in air ambulance services, island relief and border and criminal surveillance.

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