A high-tech US military aircraft, used in electronic warfare, made an emergency landing at Shannon Airport on Saturday morning after suffering engine problems.
The EC-130H ‘Compass Call’, a variant of the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport plane, operates in an airborne tactical weapon system role to disrupt enemy command and control communications and limit adversary coordination.
The turbo-prop aircraft is understood to have been en route from the United States to a destination in Europe when the crew declared an emergency in the early hours of Saturday morning.
There were 12 crew on board the plane which is attached to the 55th Electronic Combat Group based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
The crew informed air traffic controllers that they had a problem with their ‘No. 2’ engine and wished to divert to Shannon.
A short time later, the pilot advised controllers he had to shut down the problem engine and confirmed he was ‘declaring an emergency.’
Shannon Airport’s emergency plan was quickly implemented with units of the fire brigade from Shannon and Ennis along with ambulances from Limerick and Ennis being sent to the airport in support of the airport’s own fire and rescue service.
The 50-year-old plane landed safely at 12:48am and was quickly pursued along the runway by airport crash crews.
The plane was directed to a taxiway where US military aircraft are regularly parked under Irish Army and Garda protection.
According to a US Air Force website, Compass Call aircraft have “demonstrated a powerful effect on enemy command and control networks in multiple military operations including Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan.”
The aircraft generally carries a “combat crew” of 13 people including “electronic warfare officers.”
Shannonwatch, a group that monitors US military use of Shannon airport, has expressed anger at news that such a weapons system was in Irish airspace.
Spokesman Mr John Lannon said: “The landing of an electronic warfare aircraft at Shannon raises very serious questions. Why was there a US tactical weapons system like this in Irish airspace, and, was it given permission by the Irish government to overfly Ireland or to land at Shannon?”
“The Irish government repeatedly says that all US military aircraft landing or overflying Ireland are unarmed, carry no weapons, ammunition or explosives and do not form part of military exercises or operations.
Yet, here we have a US combat aircraft that employs offensive counter information and electronic attack capabilities in Irish sovereign airspace. The government cannot claim this one was not involved in military operations,” Mr Lannon said.