April in the IAF is notable for integration of aircraft: From the Avia S-199, the IAF’s first fighter aircraft, to the Sikorsky S-55. Each aircraft holds a unique story of difficulties and challenges
Einat Ravid & Carmel Lahad
Avia S-199 – The First Fighter Aircraft
On March 20th 1948, as part of Operation “Balak”, the first ten Avia S-199 aircraft, a Czech derivative of the German Bf 109 Messerschmitt, known in the IAF as “Sakeen” (Hebrew for Knife) landed in Mandatory Palestine. The aircraft were purchased by the Jewish Agency from the Czechoslovakian government at an exorbitant price, but it was the only fighter aircraft available to the IAF at the time. As part of the contract, the Czechoslovakian government was responsible for training the pilots, ground crews and mechanics. Maj. Gen.Ezer Weitzman and Lt. Col. Modi Alon, who was the first commander of the fighter squadron, were the first to complete the course. The aircraft was characterized by good maneuverability and ascension, but everything that had to do with taking off and landing requires extreme proficiency from the pilots. It later participated in crucial operations in 1948.
Sikorsky S-55 Helicopter
Following the rising tension between Israel and the Arab countries, the need to purchase a helicopter to perform rescue and transportation missions rose. The IAF eventually decided to purchase the Sikorsky S-55 helicopter. The first helicopters arrived in Tel-Nof AFB in boxes in April and August of 1956. The “Rolling Sword” Squadron, which integrated them, faced a challenge: the only ones to undergo conversion training for the helicopter were the mechanics. Therefore, it was decided to send off two pilots for training, who returned to Israel on November 1965, about two days before the end of 1956 Operation “Kadesh”. Lt. Col.Leslie Shegem, then Commander of the Air Operations Department, said about the helicopter: “The helicopters are likely to contribute on of the most important contributions the IAF can give to the country”.
Dassault Mirage III Fighter Jet
Following Israel’s concern that the Arab Air Forces would purchase the advanced MiG fighter aircraft, the Israeli government decided to purchase Mirage III jets from France. This aircraft’s advantages over the MiG were clear: it was faster, better armed and its ascent rate was equal to that of the MiG. The main disadvantage was that the Mirage was still in development, so there was little information about it. As a result, a mission set out to France in July 1959 in order to examine the aircraft. Following the visit, its purchase was approved under two conditions, one of which being enlarging its armament capacity. On April 7, 1962, the IAF’s first two Mirage jets landed in Hatzor AFB. The aircraft participated in significant operations in IAF history, such as the Six Day war, Operation “Boxer” and many aerial battles.