The Unforgettable Moments of IAF’s Flight Test Center

Photo by: Nir Ben-Yosef

The Unforgettable Moments of IAF’s Flight Test Center

Photo by: Nir Ben-Yosef

The Unforgettable Moments of IAF’s Flight Test Center

The Unforgettable Moments of IAF’s Flight Test Center

Photo by: Nir Ben-Yosef

IAF Site presents the great moments of IAF Flight Test Center, marking 40 years to its establishment – flying under unfamiliar conditions, learning enemy jets and conducting expedient tests

David Greenwald

Testing new platforms, get to know enemy jets, flying under unfamiliar conditions and above all, designing and executing thousands of tests, some in inconceivable time frames of a few hours or days – these were all experienced by the IAF’s FTC (Flight Test Center) which was established in 1974 in Tel-Nof Airbase and had since evolved into one the most advanced flight test centers in the world.

Pilots and flight test engineers, maintenance workers next to equipment professionals, all work together to give the center its charm and to constantly investigate the unknown. In honor of its 40th birthday, IAF Site reviews some of the most significant (and cleared for publication) moments of the FTC.

Flying Under Unfamiliar Conditions
On September 22, 1981, an Israeli Navy missile frigate departed Haifa Port and headed toward Eilat. Two days later, before dawn, the ship collided with a coral reef and couldn’t get out. The crew was evacuated by Bell 212 and CH-53 helicopters, but the more complicated mission was evacuating the highly expensive equipment on board – “Gabriel” missiles.
Although the missiles were neutralized in advance by a Navy force, the evacuation was complex: the frigate tilted, which made it difficult to extract the missiles, and FTC pilots and flight test engineers were called to solve the problem. The solution was tilting the CH-53 in the exact angle of the boat, but there was an additional problem: the high mast of the boat required a lifting cable five times longer than usual.

“Flying with such long cable hanging beneath is dangerous. The cargo could easily fall apart and hit the rotter, so we had to slow down the helicopter to minimum speed”, said Major D, the helicopter’s pilot, after returning the missiles to Israel.

Revealing Enemy Secrets
On October 11, 1989, Israel was shocked: A Syrian MiG-23 landed by surprise in the small landing strip in Megido in Northern Israel.
“It was a personal decision stemmed from my desire to start a new chapter in life”, said later the pilot, Bassam Addeal, in a press conference held shortly after the event. “I want to live in a democratic country where people can express themselves freely”. Addel’s aspiration gave the IAF a chance to investigate the MiG-23’s systems and reveal its secrets. The enemy jet was transferred to the FTC and its then-commander, Colonel Ofer Safra, took it for 15 test sorties. The MiG, which was painted in Syrian camouflage colors and decorated with a Syrian flag on its tail, had a high intelligence value for the IAF: the pilot and its jet taught the IDF about the Syrian Air Force’s operational and technological capabilities and the weapon it possesses. In addition, significant operational conclusions were drawn on the subject of dealing with the MiG-23.

Operational Capacity
With the outbreak of the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 2000, the FTC was demanded to conduct dozens of experiments under a special expedited procedure, under which experiments are designed, executed and studied in an extremely short periods of time.

As part of one of the experiments, IAF Headquarter demanded FTC to ready a certain weapon system for operational use in two weeks, a process which usually takes several months. The FTC rapidly installed a new navigating and display systems on the weapon, which arrived at the center only a short while earlier. A few weeks later, F-16 jets dropped the bombs on the designated targets, after taking FTC conclusions into consideration. All bombs hit the targets.

Facing the Future
IAF’s Flight Test Center will continue to make history. These days the test pilots and flight test engineers are conducting tests with the new C-130Js and M-346s, examining ways to improve their systems and adjust them to fit Israel’s unique need. A non-operational F-35I “Adir”, a highly unique jet aimed only for testing, is scheduled to land in Israel in recent years and arrive to the FTC. Its capabilities will be expanded and adjusted, as always, to the missions of the Israeli Air Force in the unstable, changing Middle East.

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