47 years after the famous sentence “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was coined and set the world onto an amazing path of space and moon research, we went out to check what first steps and beginning look like in the IAF, on the personal and collective level
Zohar Boneh | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida & Ofri Aharon
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”, these magical words were spoken over the radio 47 years ago today, when the “Apollo 11” moon mission landed on the moon. A short time afterwards, the two astronauts stepped on to the moon and began a new chapter in the history of mankind. The famous sentence “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, which was coined by Neil Armstrong, regarded the first step of a magical journey, much larger than that historical mission.
The first step is not only the most memorable of all, but the one that paves the way. Almost 50 years after one of the most memorable first steps in history, we gathered a few first steps of our own.
Photo by: NASA
When the Wheels disconnected from the Ground
For many, one of the most stressful stages of Flight Course is also one of its firsts – the first 15 flights, also called “checks”. For the young flight cadets these flight are crucial, as many of them may not pass them, and in practice, drop out from the course.
“I remember my first takeoff in the early stages of flight academy. When my wheels disconnected from the ground I said to myself ‘I am finally beginning the course’ and then I threw up”, recreated Lt. A, a helicopter pilot who recently graduated from the IAF Flight Academy. “The test begins in the first flight. In the course you are thrown into the deep end pretty quickly and you are expected to demonstrate a relatively high level of flying from that stage”.
“We performed our first flights only after five months of flight course. The excitement was immense, we had all waited for it”, he shares. “You can be strong in basic training and smart in studies but in the first checks you find out if you have the real skills. In my first flight and in those that followed I was sure that I was going to fail and was even surprised that I eventually passed the flight test”.
“This world – is my world”
“I was very nervous for my first rescue and wanted to conduct it to the best of my ability. In fact, that was the moment that the abilities and the knowledge I acquired in training were put to the test. Despite the excitement, I knew I was ready”, shared MSTR SRGNT Hezi, an Airborne Mechanic from the “Leaders of the Night” Squadron, which operates the “Yas’ur” (CH-53) Transport Helicopter. Airborne mechanics have multiple functions as helicopter crew members such as loading and unloading combatants, passengers and injured people from the and onto the helicopter.
The first rescue mission MSTR SRGNT Hezi participated in was when a soldier fell into a tunnel in in the Golan Heights in northern Israel. “We were accompanied by 669 SAR Unit operators and reached the area by helicopter where we met a civilian SAR unit. We lifted the injured soldier with a cable and evacuated her to a hospital”, he recalled. “Only upon returning I understood what we did and asked myself what I did well in the mission and what I could improve. After that mission and after many missions that followed I debriefed very harshly”.
“During the flight I was introduced to a world I wasn’t familiar with before. When I was a ground technician I knew that the helicopters were taking off for a mission but I did not understand what these missions really were. In that flight, I discovered the world of combatants and understood the significance of their duty. Today, 1,500 flight hours after my first rescue mission – this world is my world”.
The IAF’s first attack sortie
Even though it may feel like the IAF was always here, it was actually established on May 26, 1948 as part of the official IDF establishment command. In the beginning, the IAF was mostly made up of servicemen from the “Sherut Ha’Avir” (Air Service) of the “Haganah” organization and the aircraft it operated.
Only three days after the command to establish the IAF was issued, the first attack sortie was preformed: Egyptian ground forces invaded the newly established Israel and approached the city of Tel Aviv. On the evening of May 29th, four Messerschmitt aircraft that were brought from Czechoslovakia stopped the Egyptian line near Ashdod.
It was the first fighter Squadron’s fire baptism, which was, of course, later named the “First Fighter” Squadron and was considered a secret up until then. “That was the most important event in my entire life”, said the late Lou Lenart, one of the first pilots in the IAF that took part in the historical attack, “I survived WWII so that I could lead that attack”.