Meet Hadar Ben Gida: an officer in the Aircraft Engineering Department and a particularly young doctoral student who is trying to make a breakthrough in aerodynamics for the use of the IAF. He also knows quite a lot about owls, all at the mere age of 27

Eilon Tohar | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida

In the Aircraft Engineering Department, Aeronautical Section, you can find a young officer who, during his service as an officer in the IAF, is in the midst of an ambitious research that might improve the force’s operational abilities and is only 27: Capt. Hadar Gida is currently working on his doctorate, which researches owls – the bird, not the helicopter (the Blackhawk is called “Yanshuf” in the IAF, Hebrew for owl).

Although the owl is considered a symbol of wisdom, Capt. Gida found that it isn’t considered a very smart bird. Nonetheless, the owl is endowed with different abilities that make it a skilled predator: its flies so quietly, that the mice and reptiles it hunts cannot feel it glide above them until the moment they are trapped in its claws. The owl’s silent flying might be an innate ability designed to help it hunt, but what if we were able to implement the features which give the owl this ability on IAF aircraft?

How to Complete a PhD while in Service?

Photography: Ayelet Eder

Between a bird’s flight and a plane’s
Capt. Ben Gida began his service as an Academic Reserve Serviceman (a program which enables high school graduates to defer the draft and instead allows them to attend university prior to their military service) and completed his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Towards the end of his degree, Ben Gida came upon a study related to bird flight and discovered his passion for aerodynamics. According to him, he likes researching nature. “I requested to complete my master’s degree before drafting and I was rejected at first. I had to fight for it and I learned that you should never give up”, he shares.

He completed his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tel-Aviv University and following his draft, decided to begin his PhD as a part of the HR branch’s “Outstanding Scientist” program, which enables a select few to complete their PhD during their military service. “We can learn a lot from the nature around us and harness it to our needs”, he explains. “At the moment, my research is an attempt to understand how the owl creates silent flight in the aspect of aerodynamic flow, with the intention of drawing conclusions, the IAF can implement as a technological and operational solution”.

How to Complete a PhD while in Service?

Photography: Ayelet Eder

A UAV with Feathered Wings?
In order to complete his research, Capt. Ben Gida traveled to Canada for a month during his service, in order to study the owl’s silent flight in the first experiment of its kind. For the experiment, he and his teammates used a live owl which was named “Gremlin” because of his large eyes. There is of course no reason for concern: the experiments were conducted under the strict supervision of the Canadian Government in order to make sure that “Gremlin” wasn’t being hurt.

“The owl’s quiet flight, results among others, from its soft wings, which soften the sound of friction with the air”, explains Capt. Ben Gida.

So you suggest that we cover our aircraft with soft feathers?

“Of course not”, he laughs. “But why not modify them by creating a certain texture which would simulate the mechanism common among owls? It might be an applicable and relevant solution, particularly in the developing division – the unmanned aircraft division”.

How to Complete a PhD while in Service?

As for now, Capt. Ben Gida has not yet decided what his future holds, but he is expected to finish his third decade with three academic degrees and a technological military service, so it seems that there are endless options available for him. What’s more, he assured us that between his military service and academic studies, he even has time for a social life. “Many people are surprised when they learn my story and ask me how I am able to complete my doctorate at such a young age and during my military service. Although the army does help, I do have to sacrifice a lot of my free time because a doctorate is very demanding. Even so, the IAF gave me the platform to complete the doctorate I dreamed of, which I don’t take for granted. The force sees the potential in my research and the contribution it can produce from it in the future”.