The year 2011 was a busy one in the IAF. Thousands of daily flight hours were joined by flights to Italy, Greece, Romania and Japan. The established squadrons of the force were joined by a new unit, which is responsible for extinguishing fires throughout the country. The “Iron Dome” also joined the IAF Defense Formation this year and that’s not all:
Yael Harari and Michal Weissbrod
The year began where many things start: the IDF Introduction Center. 300 potential pilots made their first steps towards the IAF’s Pilot Training Course, hoping to become the first pilots to graduate in the 2011 recruitment cycle.
As suitable for a new beginning, the Antiaircraft Formation transformed and became the Aerial Defense Formation, which is responsible not only for defense from enemy aircraft but from incoming rockets & missiles as well.
In February, the “International Squadron” received the main fuelling jet plane of the IAF: “Boeing 707”, which has the ability to fly longer distances.
The Aerial Defense Formation operated a successful experiment of the “Arrow” system at a U.S. site. As part of the experiment, the “Arrow” intercepted a missile simulating enemy weaponry from hundreds of kilometers away.
Following the tsunami that overtook Japan, an Israeli assistance delegacy took off and flew for more than 9000 kilometers toward faraway Japan. The underbelly of the Boeing 707 held medical teams, tens of tons of medical equipment, medicine, sickbeds, gloves, blankets and coats.
Three new fire-fighting jets arrived from Spain to Israel.
In 2011, the IDF appointed a new Chief of General Staff. In April he visited the IAF for the first time as Chief of Staff of the IDF.
“The IAF is no stranger to me, moreover, it is very significant to me”, said Lieutenant General Gants, previously the Commander of IAF “Shaldag” commando Unit.
During those days, the “Iron Dome” system was in action for the first time and intercepted a Grad rocket launched from Gaza area.
During the month of May, 30 combat soldiers joined the IAF 669 Search & Rescue unit. They completed difficult training sessions that lasted year and a half. Meanwhile, a festive opening was held for the fire-fighting unit at “Sde Dov” airbase. Less than a week after the unit became operational, it was rushed to put out a fire south of the Golan Heights and dropped nearly 40 tons of water, thus succeeded in its mission.
In the summer, regiment commanders from an IDF division arrived in the northern “Ramat David” Airbase, in order to improve its relationship with the combat formation.
“Nevatim” airbase hosted Omri Kaspi, the first Israeli NBA player, who talked to Aerial crew members about leading a healthy lifestyle, intensive training and ‘shooting’ high.
At the end of June, another Pilot Training Course ended, including two cousins, seven people from Haifa and a former Paratrooper Unit company commander.
In the month of July, IAF helicopters flew towards the Greek Mountains for a joint-exercise with the Greek Forces who brought their “Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma”,”UH-1″ and the “Boeing AH-64 Apache”.
Israeli representatives visited a U.S Marines base and thoroughly examined the desired V-22 aircraft. “This aircraft will change all the rules of the game. We will be able to carry out things we never dreamed of”, says Lieutenant Colonel Nimrod who flew the aircraft.
In August, the Commando Unit of the IAF celebrated 35 years of covert operations.”Shaldag” Unit combat soldiers from all generations arrived at the event. Major General Tal Russo, Commander of the Southern Command and Major General Eyal Izenberg, Commander of the Home Front, were also in attendance.
Meanwhile, the “Hercules” Formation headed out for a challenging training session in Romania, a year after the tragic “Sikorsky Ch-53” crash that took the lives of seven team members. At the end of the month, a moment before school startd, another “Iron Dome” system was formed.
In September, the IAF magazine published its 200th edition, unveiling old stories and remarkable facts.
The bond between the IAF and IDF was strengthened when Commanders from the “Nahal” Division arrived at “Palmachim” Airbase wearing aviation overalls and trained with the IAF’s Combat and Transport helicopters.
In addition, the bereaved families of the aerial crew members who had fallen in Romania, flew back to the Carpathian Mountains in order to inaugurate a special monument dedicated to their dear ones.
An International exhibit was held in the Czech Republic, where the IAF too was represented. Hundreds of visitors stood in lines to see the Israeli F-15 which is known around the world.
On 18/10/11, the whole country stood still as IAF’s “Sikorsky Ch-53” helicopter landed in “Tel Nof” Airbase. Moments later, the door opened and POW Gilad Shalit stepped off the aircraft and into his family’s arms.
After a long dilemma the decision was made: The First F-35 Formation will be formed in “Nevatim” Airbase.
The advanced combat airplane, which is supposed to arrive in Israel until 2016, will provide new and improved abilities to the IAF. “The F-35 agreements will grant the IAF a new efficient and elite quality”, said Major General Ido Nehoshtan Commander of the IAF.
The year of 2011 will conclude with a special ceremony for the graduating Pilot Training Course cadet. A new generation of aerial crew members will stand proudly in front of their dear ones and finally receive their “Pilot Wings”.
Together, we are welcoming the New Year in hopes of taking off to peaceful and quiet skies. Happy New Year!