A pilot course for Jews from Mandatory Palestine opens in Bakersfield, Ca.


On the initiative of Elynor Rudnick, the daughter of a Jewish millionaire from Bakersfield, Ca., a special pilot course was opened in early February 1948, intended for Jews from Jewish Palestine who were residing in the USA. Rudnick had a private pilot’s license and her own private airfield, in which the course was held.

She had heard of Al Schwimmer’s activities and contacted the Hagana delegation’s coordinator – Teddy Kollek (later Mayor of Jerusalem) – who took upon himself the task of finding and choosing the candidates for the course, together with Moshe Gornitzky (Goren). In the end, 13 Hagana men and women were recruited: Amnon Berman, Emanuel Rotstein, David Dankner, Zohara Levitov, Shlomo Landau (Lahat), Sarah Guberman (Maklef), Bill Vilenczuk (Bar-‘Atid Arad), Moshe Hirsch (‘Ofer), Dan-Peter Gilbert, Paltiel Maklef, Hayim Tannenbaum (Arazi), Meir Hofshi and ‘Oded Abarban’el.

The course was short and intensive, much like the pilot courses in the US military in the late WW2 period: a short, concentrated training course in the flight school, supplemented when the graduates were already in operational service. For the course, Rudnick purchased AT-17 planes and hired the services of three experienced instructors who had taught pilot courses in the US Army. When they weren’t in the AT-17 cockpits, the cadets sat in on an advanced course in ground studies that was being given to an American reserve squadron, in a local college’s night school.

The pilot course was carried out in secrecy, due to the embargo the US had placed on the supply of arms to the Middle East. The course ended in June 1948, and its cadets went back to Israel, where they joined the brand-new Heyl Ha’avir – the IAF.