A former Israeli air force pilot and skydiving instructor is now collecting and restoring old aircraft to create Israel’s first civilian aircraft gallery.
By Avigayil Kadesh
For a pilot who doesn’t fly, Dan Mokady sure loves airplanes. He is captivated by the story behind each small plane he’s bought or bartered for. He is fascinated by their composition and architecture, awed by the simplicity of their engines and propellers.
On the 25-acre site of his skydiving enterprise, ParaDive on Habonim Beach south of Haifa, the former Israel Air Force (IAF) deputy squadron commander lovingly collects and restores his acquisitions. By the end of 2011, they’ll be displayed in what will be Israel’s first civilian aircraft gallery.
He prefers not to call it a museum. Though it will house traditional exhibits, the eight-meter-high (26-foot) complex under construction is to include a deck where visitors can dine while watching the restored planes take to the sky at specified times. "Airplanes are meant to fly," he says.
An artist’s sketch of the future museum
Just don’t expect to see this former A-4, F-4 and F-16 pilot behind the throttle. Grounded by chronic sinus problems 15 years ago, he no longer has any interest, let alone a license. He wasn’t particularly taken with flying even as a child. As far as he recalls, his sole boyhood brush with aviation involved a pretend jetliner for which he "sold" transatlantic tickets to buddies when he was six.
From aerobatics to aviation risk management
An Israeli postage stamp honoring Dan Mokady’s skydiving enterprise ParaDive
The baby of the family, he was not yet two when his father was killed in action during the Six-Day War. When his older brother wanted to join an elite army unit, and when Mokady later chose the Air Force, their mother had to sign special permission forms as per IDF regulations for sons of fallen soldiers.
Eleven years ago, Mokady began ParaDive at a seaside aerial reserve, a rare if not unique zoning designation. He does not skydive, but he had all the right tools to run such a business.
"Aviation risk management is something I learned well in the military, and I learned much more here," he says. Part-time instructors, some of them doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs, "come whenever they can take a day off, to breathe the sea air and meet the people."
On Tuesdays, nobody jumps. A crew of experts and interns, led by master aircraft mechanic Shalom Schniezak, comes that day to weld, sand, paint and otherwise ready Mokady’s machines for their debut in the gallery.
"Golden Age" planes to fly again
Of the four aircraft he has acquired from the "Golden Age" of aviation between the world wars, the Fleet Model 1, a two-seat biplane made in 1929, is one of two that’s going to be airworthy. The other is a 1935 black Porterfield that Mokady bought from a female American commercial pilot who had meticulously begun rebuilding it. "It landed on a highway in 1945 and hasn’t flown since," Mokady says. "In a year or two, it will fly."
This is the oldest of six extant Model 35-70 Porterfields, and it retains its original zero-time rebuilt Leblond 70 radial engine. Its instrument panel sports an unusual counterclockwise altimeter quaintly marked "Height." In the original logbook’s "purpose of flight" section, the long-ago owner entered one word: "Pleasure."
Instrument panel of the Porterfield (Photo: Avigayil Kadesh)
The shell of a four-seat Fairchild Model 24, manufactured in 1938, may remain unfinished so that visitors can peer inside. Four of these monoplanes were used early on by the IAF. Three were shot down and one was sold to the civilian market.
Then there’s a prototype 1929 biplane sketched by renowned military aviation designer Ed Heinemann in his youth and partially built by a friend. "It’s missing many parts, but we will complete it to finish," Mokady promises. "Practically speaking, it will be more sensible to show it than fly it."
Gliding and flying history on display
Hanging next to the biplane from the hangar’s ceiling is a glider designed and built by the late Menachem Bar, deputy commander of the IAF during the Six-Day War and one of its founders. "He glided from age 16 to age 82 and was known as the ‘father of gliding’ in Israel," Mokady relates.
Outside on the airstrip, six Dornier 28 B-1s patiently await restoration. These German-made military craft are part of a fleet of seven that Mokady acquired gradually, through complex logistics, since the summer of 2009 with the aid of Israeli and American partners. These planes, known as Agurs in the IAF, would otherwise have been relegated to the scrap heap.
One Agur is put aside for eventual display, still sporting a blue Star of David on its fuselage and a flying camel insignia on its tail. Mokady swapped the seventh in the fleet for a Russian-made MiG-23 ML. "The MiG-23 has always been one of the most significant planes to fly against the Israel Air Force, even today," states Mokady.
"This one was used in the Czech Air Force and bought by an American collector. We traded – he went for the classic and I went for the war model. What I love about this airplane is its heaviness and its architecture."
Firmly grounded family of flight
Mokady’s wife, Einat, a dietician-turned-graphic designer, is handling the design elements of the project – logos, printed materials and exhibit spaces. The couple’s daughters, ages 12, 16 and 19, share their mother’s artistic talents – one of them designed the t-shirts sold in ParaDive’s souvenir shop – as well as their father’s disinterest in flying.
The static objects in the tourist gallery are to include memorabilia from the "Golden Age" to the present: A 1918 wooden propeller, aviation magazines from 1917 to 1928, vintage airplane engines, parts and books, among other items.
"I want to combine the black and white with the colors, the old with the new," says Mokady, much in the same way that Menachem Bar combined his passions for fighter piloting and gliding. "The contrast attracts me."
Someday, he hopes to add a wind tunnel to the complex. Visitors would pay a small fee for the chance to experience simulated free flight inside the tunnel. "It’s the only way to fly without a parachute," Mokady says – and just the ticket for former pilots who prefer to tend to their planes without taking off in them.