Thousands of young men and women have entered the gates of the IAF’s Flight Academy, only a select few have left those gates as aircrew members. For the approaching graduation of flight course 174, different cadets from different eras share their stories
About 50 years have passed since the IAF’s Flight Academy settled in Hatzerim AFB. Since then, thousands of young men and women entered its gates and a few hundred left them with wings and great responsibility on their shoulders.
“When we were in the first stage of flight school, the 1967 ‘Six Day’ war broke out. Course 52, who drafted a short time before us, were the youngest who fought. I remember thinking to myself that if we were to draft with them, we would have been fighting as well. All of the flight instructors were scattered throughout the operational squadrons and we were sent back home, but only when we began hearing about pilots falling in the line of duty, it became real. We suddenly understood the price of war and along with it, the meaning of the role”. Lt. Col. (Res’) Harel Gilutz, Maj. (Res’) Benny Dodelson and Maj. (Res’) Shimon Guy, who were among the first pilots to undergo full flight training in Hatzerim AFB, as part of the 55th Class of the IAF’s Flight Academy, shared with us.
The IAF Flight academy was previously positioned in Tel-Nof AFB. The need to clear training zones in central Israel and the aspiration to concentrate the regular military force, led by the IDF’s training bases, near Israel’s prime enemy at the time, Egypt – contributed to the decision to establish a fourth Air Force Base in Hatzerim.
The runways were the only usable object in the entire base. The control tower and squadron buildings were in construction, there were little roads if at all, training infrastructure was lacking, classrooms were scarce and the flight academy found it difficult to provide its cadets with consistent instruction.
Photo by: Celia Garion
A Pilot is a Pilot
Since then, the Flight Academy has undergone countless changes, the most significant of which occurred in the 1990’s. “The world and the academy may have undergone significant technological advancements, but the flight cadets of the 2000’s acquire the same traits that we required from pilots in the 60’s: understanding their mission, responsibility, a sense of mission and determination”, emphasized Lt. Col. Eyal, Commander of the Flight Academy’s Fighter Division. “Nevertheless, back then, the best pilot had to have complete control of the stick and throttle. Today’s pilots, on the other hand, are required to operate information systems, complex weapons and advanced technologies and the requirements are only rising”.
In addition, in the years that have passed, the old-fashioned hierarchy paired with the stern command, which characterized the 1960’s, has been blurred. “In our courses, the hierarchy was far more extreme than it is today. As a cadet, I never spoke with the head of my division or squadron commander except for during flights and we dearly feared our course commander. There was very little discussion and very little attention and we usually learned what not to do and not what we should do”, he explained.
Photo by: Celia Garion
Meet the Modern Pilot
Lt. Eldad is a graduate of Flight Course 171, one of the first classes to fly on the advanced “Lavi” (M-346) which landed in Hatzerim AFB in 2014 and has since replaced the “Ayit” (A-4 Skyhawk) which had served the flight academy’s fighter division cadets since 1967. The “Lavi” marked the beginning of a new era in the flight academy as it is equipped with advanced avionics, the ability to simulate weapons and bombs and many resemblances with today’s fighter aircraft. “Only after flying on the ‘Barak’ (F-16C/D) did I understand that the ‘Lavi’ is an aircraft ‘from another world’ – the flight is smooth, the systems are computerized and everything works out by pressing the right buttons”, testified Lt. Eldad, who is currently undergoing operational training in the “First Fighter” Squadron.
“The instruction in the course was combined: on one hand, they wanted to see how we operate in an IAF environment without any instruction or help and on the other hand, on the professional level, we were instructed from the largest to the smallest details”, said Lt. Eldad. “It felt like we were thrown into the water but given tools to float”.
A Lone Pilot
In 2006, six months of academic studies in which the cadets complete a master’s degree from the Ben-Gurion University were added to the lengthy training period. Instruction methods and systems have developed and the flying platforms have been renewed. Over the years, the Flight Academy has adapted in accordance with the IAF’s needs and updated its training concepts in accordance with global trends.
“There is a tremendous significance in the role of a pilot. The power I hold in my hands, as a 22 year old young man that can be alerted and in the air in minutes, is incredible. Every fighter pilot has to have a deep understanding of the consequences of his actions”, Lt. Eldad concluded. “As a lone pilot in an aircraft, I represent the IDF and entire state of Israel and the mistakes I make might have national and international implications”.