Flying through Darkness Flying through Darkness Flying through Darkness The northern “Valley squadron” headed out for a week-long complex exercise in the dark. Through the unique training session, aerial crews practiced various common scenarios that may arise when flying at night. The IAF website presents a peek into a combat squadron’s activities after the sun sets

Michal Khayut | Photography: Yonatan Zalk

When reservists are called to arrive at Ramat David airbase for various training sessions, you would be able to spot them by their overalls and off-white uniforms. But this week, the squadron seemed as silent as ever. At around five in the afternoon, air crew members showed up prepared for a long night of activity that could end at two in the morning. This was all part of “Reverse Week”, in which air crew members practice nighttime flights all week long.

Air crew members face many challenges when flying in the dark: aside from the obvious disruption of normal sleeping hours, they also have to look at their surroundings through night-vision devices. Even takeoffs and landings are not carried out as expected due to the darkness. The pilots have to adjust to flying with sharper-than-usual, as they have to rely on night vision devices to see. One of the apparatus used by pilots is called “Journal”–a surveillance device that is fixed on the pilot’s head piece and brightens the light produced by stars–and provides air crew members with better sight.

Thanks to ‘Reverse Week’, air crew members receive a chance to practice all the challenging scenarios that could arise when flying at night. “We fly at night every week”, clarifies Major Lior, deputy commander of the squadron. “When we devote a day to flying at night, we only get to fly only once. In comparison, when we ‘reverse’ an entire week, we get to head out at night multiple times. This arrangement hitches the level of complexity up a notch; we begin with a relatively simple layout, and as time goes by we make the exercises progressively more difficult”. Not only does the number of flights provide pilots with a higher level of difficulty, but the number of people and airplanes that get to take off make it possible to fly in more complex layouts and formations.

When the double-seated F-16 arrived at the “First Combat” squadron at Hatzor airbase, commanders decided to commence ‘Reverse Week’. “I was the commander of the formation at the time. We realized that nighttime training once a week was not enough”, remembers Brigadier General (Res.) Ram Shmueli, today a reservist officer at the “Valley” squadron. “We decided to take a page from the helicopter squadrons’ book and fly at night throughout the week, which is how the reverse week was born. Today, as a reservist officer, I can see the advantage of training at night more often because of the extensive experience and expertise you gain”.