Etzel’s flight course

The British High Commisioner gives new pilot Pesach Steinberg his license The graduates of the Etzel’s flight course receive their licenses


The Etzel, or Irgun Tzvai Leumi, planned to build a full-fledged army in order to fight the British and evict them from the land of Israel. As a part of this plan, one of Etzel’s leaders, Avraham Shechterman, began preparations for the establishment of an air wing. He recruited Moshe Hayim Katz, an American Jew, to help him. Katz managed, somehow, to get the British mandatory government’s Department of Civilian Aviation to approve plans for opening a flight school in Lod airfield. Jewish-American pilot Edwin Liebovitz – who had been a wing commander in the Republican Air Force in Spain – was the flight school’s first instructor, and his model A Taylorcraft was its first trainer. Katz’s son, Freddy, joined Liebovitz after a while, as did two Taylorcraft BLs that had been purchased in the USA.

The flight school’s first class had 13 cadets. In order to make the course seem as ‘civilian’ as possible outwardly, two women and two non-Jews were enrolled as well. Katz’s personal connections with the British mandatory government’s officials meant that the school enjoyed the trust of the British. The school took full advantage of this trust: among those who completed the course were members of the outlawed “Beitar” movement, some of whom were active underground fighters.

On April 21st 1939, the first six graduates of the course received their licenses in a fancy ceremony, which included a flight show given by the school’s instructors. The top leadership of the Jewish populace (which had a bitter dispute with the Etzel) did not show up at the ceremony, however. This fact aroused British suspicions, and the homes of the course’s graduates were searched. Despite this, the flight school continued to operate for several more months, and seven more pilots were trained in its second season.

With the outbreak of WW2, the RAF slapped a virtually complete ban on civilian flight from Lod. This fact, combined with the economic hardships that the school faced, forced its closure and the sale of its planes to Aviron.