35 years have passed since the F-16 A/B fighter jets first landed in Israel. With many historical operations, the jet is considered a true game changer in the Middle East
It happened on July 2nd 1980: Four F-16 A/B “Netz” (Hebrew for Hawk) fighter jets landed in Ramat-David Airbase and joined the ranks of the Israeli Air Force.
Now, the “Netz” celebrates 35 years of activity in the IAF. “The F-16 A/B will be recorded in history as the fighter jet that changed the face of the Middle East”, determined Major General Amir Eshel, IAF commander, during a celebrative ceremony marking 35 years of “Netz”. “The jet has broadened the capabilities of the force and the standards that were set for its operation has constituted the base for the absorption of more jets afterwards”.
Less than a year after its arrival, the F-16 A/B had already managed to record an impressive achievement: first world downing of enemy jet by an F-16 A/B. The historical downing took place in April 1981, when Brig. Gen. (Res.) Rafi Berkovich shot down a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter. “I will never forget this event”, shared Brig. Gen. (Res.) Berkovich during the ceremony.
During the years, the jet was already operated by six different squadrons in the IAF and has taken part in many campaigns: the wars in Lebanon, Operation “Grapes of Wrath”, “Cast Lead”, “Pillar of Defense” and the most recent Operation “Protective Edge”. “The ‘Netz’ squadrons have hundreds of thousands of sorties and flight hours, many of which operational sorties”, said Lt. Col. Yotam, Commander of the F-16 A/B “Defenders of the South” squadron.
On top of remarkable operational achievements, the F-16 A/B is also used as an instructional jet for the new fighter pilots in the pilot course. “The unique features of the jet create a perfect instructional environment for the development of aerial fighters”, said Lt. Col. Yotam.
The new “Aermacchi M-346” will soon take the F-16 A/B’s place as the official instructional plane for new pilots and weapon systems operators. “The M-346 highly resembles the F-16 A/B, but there is one difference – it cannot be used for attack or downing”, said Brig. Gen. (Res.) Rafi Berkovich, who has already flown on the new jet.
34 Years since the destruction of the Iraqi “Osirak” Nuclear Reactor
One of the most significant highlights in the service of the F-16A/B is the attack on “Osirak” Nuclear Reactor in Iraq as part of Operation “Opera”, exactly 34 years ago. “This attack was a great test for the F-16 A/B. It wasn’t its first operational sortie, but it was definitely its first operational test”, said Brig. Gen. (Res.) Israel Shafir, who took part in the historical flight.
Many new, more technologically-advanced jets have joined the IAF since the 1980s, but the F-16 A/B veterans speak of the jet as unique and exceptional.
“This plane is of such high quality, it gives you exactly what you want. You can really feel you’re a part of it”, said Brig. Gen. (Res.) Berkovich.
“I felt its great performances since the first flight. It fits you like a glove – wherever you look, the jet can take you there. Anyone who flies it, is impressed with the maneuvers, G-force and aerodynamics”, added Brig. Gen. (Res.) Shafir, who was a part of the establishing team prior to the arrival of the jet. “There wasn’t a person who flew on it and didn’t fall in love”.