Super Mister pilots tried to catch the mysterious plane, but to no avail
A photograph by the reconnaissance plane: A bombed airport in Egypt It’s been 40 years. Time after time, a mysterious aircraft penetrating Israeli skies, leaving behind only a heron of smoke and veils. Every IAF interception attempt ended up failing. Now, the IAF Magazine reveals one of the most scandalous issues in the force’s history
“I don’t think we can discuss this”, hesitates M’ on the other side of the phone line. “And even if we did, I don’t remember much. Anyways, have a good day”. Yet another conversation ends with a “good day” sendoff. It seems that even the four decades that have passed cannot dissolve the secrecy around the intriguing story.
“Some say that they can’t remember it well. The thing is, you can never forget this sort of thing”, clarifies a former pilot who requested to stay anonymous. “We had never experienced that kind of despair. How is it possible that we, pilots of the most powerful air force in the world, as we thought then, are failing time after time for months? How is it that we can’t complete our main– protecting the country’s skies?”
“We Can’t Stop Them”
Every story told by the participants begins with “It was just another day, the sky was clear”, continues with a sudden rush towards an unidentified flying object and ends with a big disappointment on account of pilots, general staff seniors and the leaders of the country. “There wasn’t even one intelligence lead on these takeoffs. Everything we knew about the airplanes flying within our country’s territory could be summarized in two words: absolutely nothing”, admits Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Uri Wolf, Intelligence Officer of the IAF Headquarters during the late 50s.
People in charge of decision-making could not be more confused. The odd takeoffs kept on appearing in high frequencies but their existence was hushed in order to avoid panic, or worse: the chance that enemy countries would understand that the Israeli skies aren’t completely sealed.
“It Appeared Out of Nowhere”
On July 22nd, 1959, a unique call from the ATC unit was transferred to the “Knights of the North” Squadron that dealt with photography. “Someone came rushing into the formation hysterically and asked who is willing to go on an interception takeoff immediately. I accepted and we both ran towards the plane as fast as we could”, says Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Avraham Kimchi.
Avraham and the other pilot arrived at the Sud Avation Vautour combat airplane number 33, which had the ability to take photographs, and jumped in. “That was when I realized that there were two of us pilots. ‘Why do we need two pilots? Where will I sit?’ I asked him. He silenced me and said that there was no time for questions. A moment before we headed out, someone intercepted me and gave me a huge box that looks like a camera: ‘press that button and get as many pictures as possible’, he said to me and left me with that huge object that I can’t work, during a mission I had never completed before”.
Avraham and the pilot next to him moved fast and tried getting as many details from the ATC unit before reaching their destination, “We began climbing and climbing until we reached 50,000 feet”. Avraham released the safety belt and pressed his head and the camera against the Vautor’s window. “I moved from window to window, looking for it. And then out of nowhere, it appeared above us: black and huge with giant wings like you’ve never seen before. It was a huge cross flying slowly and in crazy heights. We knew that there was no chance we could get to it so the pilot lowered his altitude, accelerated and we stalled. I took photo after photo until we went into a spin and lost height. I bounced to the window before me but we were able to gain control over the situation shortly and get back to Ramat David Airbase. I was in shock, I barely made it down the ladder of the airplane when someone came up to me, took the camera away, and no one has mentioned the pictures or talked about that takeoff with me ever since”.
The secondary breakthrough that shed some light on the occurrence came after four years of frustration on May 7th, 1960, surprisingly from the Soviet Union. In a speech that was a rock in the road during the cold war, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the USSR, revealed the American spying aircraft that was dropped in Soviet territory: the U-2.
“Today, I introduce you to the American plane that no combat airplane could put its hands on except for us”, said Khrushchev to the world. “It flew at an altitude of 20 kilometers, carrying spying and photography equipment. There’s no doubt that the purpose of the flights was clear and as opposed to what the Americans say, it wasn’t here to check on the weather. It is needless to point out that the plane’s operation continually broke rules and sovereignties of other countries around the world”.
Thus, the masterpiece of the CIA’s “Skunk-work” was revealed. The knocked-down aircraft was operated by Captain Gary Powers, and was hit by strong Anti Aircraft attacks around the area of Ural Mountains. Gary Powers Jr., son of the famous pilot, said to the IAF Magazine: “What happened was a huge surprise. Our family members were sure that my father was a weather inspecting pilot from NASA. No one knew of CIA job and surely not of the existence of the airplane he flew”.
When needed, the U-2 airplanes were taped with NASA symbols and U.S department of Agriculture stickers and the flights were classified as meteorological research missions. The airplanes completed daily spying assignments according to the direct instructions of President Eisenhower, who insisted on utilizing the expensive intelligence resource as often as possible. When there was no need for flying over USSR, the pilots were sent to other territories. “In conclusion, my father had 28 ‘forecasting’ flights. Only four of them were in the skies of the USSR and almost all others were hot spots in the Middle East”. Israel was undoubtedly one of those spots, and perfectly fit the term “hot spot”.