Sixty Five Years: How it All Began

Avia S-199, the first combat plane in the IAF Sixty Five Years: How it All Began

Combat in the Skies of Tel Aviv From a small force with few resources, the IAF has become one of the strongest forces in the world. In honor of Israel’s Independence Day, the IAF Website invites you to get a small taste of the blue force’s history

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The IAF has gone a long way since the days when a miniscule number of airplanes took off during the Israel’s War of Independence, fueled by the goal to protect the young country. Today, the strategic arm of Israel owns hundreds of the most advanced aircrafts: Combat helicopters and planes, UAVs and missile systems that guard Israeli territory all day, every day. The early years after the establishment of the IAF are packed with secret missions and dangerous takeoffs: the first mission, first kill and first flight. These first steps paved the road to the IAF’s well-known aerial supremacy.

The First Medal of Valor

The first IAF Medal of Valor was given to Pilot Tzvi Zibel, who fought during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In May of 1948, Zibel took off in an Auster Autocrat towards the besieged Ben Shemen area in order to provide the settlement with a new radio instead of their old broken one. Alongside Zibel sat Adam Presler, representative of the settlement Ben Shemen at Sde Dov Airbase. As the aircraft’s wheels touched the runway, heavy fire commenced from the nearby Arab village. Under massive fire, they were able to transfer the intended transmitter, but as they began returning to the Auster, they were halted by the ceaseless fire. At last, they were able to take off as a tractor filled with sandbags drove in parallel to them as the only shield from enemy fire. “As a result of the firem I had to stay at the settlement for longer than I had intended to and only after I made a few arrangements was I able to fly back”, described Zibel in a debriefing following the intense occurrence.

The First Combat Airplane

Nowadays, the IAF has numerous modern airplanes with extremely advanced capabilities. In the coming few years, the F-35 is destined to join the Force. The ancestor of the combat formation is the Avia S-199 Messerschmitt, in its Hebrew name–the knife: The first combat airplane flown by the IAF. Its journey to Israel was anything but simple. The first “Knife” arrived from Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) after being dismembered into six parts in order for it to fit into the Sky Master Cargo airplane. Most of the combat airplane’s parts where fit inside carefully and successfully, but when the body of the plane was set to be entered into storage, there was fear of damaging either plane. In the end, the crew was able to enter the body of the “Knife” with its tail stretched into the pilot’s cabin, and brought the new plane safely to Israel where it marked a list of impressive battles and kills.

First Kills

A great deal of IAF airplanes participated in aerial battles and kills, but only one combat airplane became the first Israeli plane to drop an enemy aircraft. The final battle occurred in the midst of the Israeli War of Independence over Tel Aviv, Rehovot and Rishon Le Tzion, as two Egyptian Dakotas bombed Tel Aviv and the airport. The citizens watching from the ground experienced an impressive vision, which consisted of two enemy airplanes droppings by Pilot Mordechai Alon with the help of no other but “The Knife”. That day made it clear that the IAF, although only in its early days, was prepared to fight back. For the first time, an enemy attack was halted by Israeli aircrafts.

The First Pilot Training Course

Only a small number of people graduated the elite Pilot Training Course to become IAF pilots. Moreover, it seemed as though the graduation percentages of the first course were lower than usual: only four graduates received their wings after being trained in the former Czechoslovakia. The course ended in March only a year after Israel was established. In fact, it became known as “Course Number 2” and the first official IAF Pilot Training Course began in 1950 at Camp Sirkin (where 17 air crew members were able to graduate).

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