The”Ayit” (A-4 Skyhawk) served in the IAF since 1967. During the 1973 “Yom Kippur” War, “Ayit” (A-4 Skyhawk) fighter jets arrived to Israel via airlift from the United States. 44 years later, the American pilots who volunteered to airlift the fighter jets at the height of the war met with the Israeli pilots who received the aircraft
On October 6th, 1973, the “Yom Kippur” War broke out without warning. The arrival of American fighter jets via airlift was critical to tipping the scales in Israel’s favor, but for the American pilots who volunteered to transport the aircraft, it was just another mission. Commander Allen Chesterman – a U.S Marine Corps pilot who flew a number of “Ayit” (A4 Skyhawk) to Israel – says that he was not aware of Israel’s security situation when he landed here in October 1973. “We knew we were flying into a combat zone, but we knew nothing beyond that”, he says.
Four Decades Later
72 year old Commander Chesterman was one of two pilots recently reunited with a number of the Israeli “Ayit” pilots to whom they’d delivered the aircraft. The American pilots visited Israel to travel and one of their stations was Tel-Nof AFB, where they’d shared war stories with Israeli “Ayit” pilots.
Lt. Col. (Res.) Rami Lotan is an IAF pilot who welcomed the Americans in 1973 and flew one of the newly arrived “Ayit” aircraft in the war. He initiated the American pilots’ visit to Israel after meeting them in a flight expo in the US. “In June of 2015, we hosted ten members of the American ‘Skyhawk’ Association in Israel”, he said. “They defined the tour as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a firm friendship was formed. We visited one of the families in Massachusetts last July, I gave them a photograph of Israeli and American pilots in the ‘Yom Kippur’ War and asked them to locate them. Now they’re here with us in Israel”.
Photo courtesy of the interviewee
Fighting for Your Life
Lt. Col. (Res.) Lotan explained that the Israelis weren’t able to appreciate the Americans’ arrival in Israel during the war. “This visit is an opportunity to show our appreciation”, he says. “I think we didn’t have enough time to fully realize the meaning of what happened. During the war, we flew anything that could carry armament, we didn’t care where it came from. Seeing these men today is like meeting our long-lost brothers. These are pilots who have no relation to the Middle-East, and volunteered to come and help us because they finished their tour in Vietnam”.
Commander Chesterman recalled that he was stationed in a base in South California when his squadron asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission and nearly every pilot raised his hand. Even though they only spent a few hours in Israel, Commander Chesterman remembers his impressions of the war: “It suddenly struck me that they weren’t just fighting for territory, but for their lives as well”.
Photo courtesy of the interviewee
“Impressed by the Israelis’ commitment”
Until recently, Commander Chesterman was afraid to go back to Israel, thinking it wasn’t safe to visit. He first came back Israel two years ago. Today, he is impressed by the situation the country has come to in the years past. “I am very impressed by the Israelis’ commitment. It’s such a young country, with so many smart people and technology, but it also has so much history. It’s an amazing place. If it hadn’t been for my children and grand-children back in the United States, Israel would’ve been at the top of the list of places to live in”.