“It’s exciting to board such a flight”
The First Takeoff After Reconstruction
F-16 041 Returns to the Skies
F-16 041 After the Crash It’s been seven years since the last flight of the IAF F-16 041. After a particularly brutal crash, it was sent to the Maintenance unit of the IAF, and was given a total makeover. This week its pilots return with it to the sky
When an F-16 arrives on a landing strip, you can’t help but wonder–can planes be traumatized? Seven years have gone by since it crashed. Now, after its wheels were paralyzed for a long period of time, after not touching the landing strip, it finally gets the chance to start its engines, waiting at the end of the strip for its chance to fly up, up and away. This time, its cockpit holds a particularly emotional pilot and navigator: the two air crew members who ditched the plane–one the most traumatic experiences a pilot can have–return to take off in it again.
There is no doubt about it: “It will do it properly and successfully”, everyone agrees. After all, everyone here helped in the resurrection of the historic plane. “The people of the Aerial Maintenance unit have accomplished something only a few in the world can”, says Colonel Oded, commander of the unit. “Even though we have lots of experience with rebuilding ‘injured’ aircrafts, we’ve never dealt with this sort of tragic case before”.
Pictures from 2005 speak for themselves. Split Seconds before touching ground, the 041’s right wheel detached and the crew was forced to abandon the aircraft as it trembled along the landing strip. The F-16 041 was headed straight to the ‘E.R’ unit of the aerial maintenance crew. “When it arrived, we couldn’t believe it was even fixable. The front was completely shattered, its tail was broken, the wings curved and the engine was filled with mud”, says warrant officer Eldad, head of the rehabilitation project. Putting everything aside, members of the aerial maintenance unit didn’t give up, and began the assembling of the damaged plane. “When representatives of the manufacturing company came to Israel, they didn’t have a bit of hope, no one believed we could fix it”, says Colonel Ran, head of airplane department in the equipment formation. “The Americans thought that it was a waste of time to worry about planes in that condition, but our perspective is that every plane counts. We had to do everything in order to fix it”.
2012: The Pilot and Navigator who Ditched Take off Again
Everything said and done, the people of the Aerial Maintenance Unit didn’t give up. After years of treatment and replacing hundreds of components, F-16i 041 finally took off toward home, back to the “Valley” Squadron. “I’m standing here by the plane, and realizing how many people were affected by this crash”, smiles Major (Res.) Ofer, the pilot who was ejected from the plane before the crash. “It’s hard to believe that everything went back to the way it was”. Ofer walks toward the plane he hesitantly ditched, and carefully climbs to the cockpit. “I’m excited, but not nervous. In the years that passed, I realized how much my life is dependent on the people around me, how the engineer who examined the chair and the technicians who tested the systems saved my life. Were just one component not to work, I wouldn’t be here”. The navigator who flew with Major (Res.) Ofer also climbed onto the plane proudly. A final goodbye to the families, and they were off–after seven years, the F-16i 041’s first takeoff.