Israeli Air Bases
By Dean Wingrin
Even before independence, the Jews of Palestine operated a clandestine air service, the Sherut Avir, under the noses of the British using light aeroplanes. In fact, in order to conceal their activities, several aircraft were painted with the same scheme, including registration. Suitable measures were taken to ensure that these twins were never seen together!
Not many people know that Jerusalem has an airport, let alone an international one. Situated on the outskirts of this ancient city, the airport has handled aircraft as large as Aeroflot A-310 Airbus....Apart from numerous light aircraft, a UN F-27 Friendship (HB-AAZ), a civil DC-3 and a corporate Gulfstream IV (C-FJES) was also in attendance.
Hertzlia, to the north of Tel Aviv, has a busy civil airfield that is home to the biggest private aircraft company in Israel, operating helicopters, light utility aircraft and crop-sprayers. After a short history of the airfield, the airport manager took us on a tour of the apron that included his pride and joy - a derelict ex-USN Grumman Avenger (85506/N6682D or-69355/N7850C). Among the civil aircraft were ex-IAF Piper Cubs.
Sde Dov Airport (Tel Aviv)
Situated a few kilometers from the centre of Tel Aviv, this airport has tremendous historical importance. Originally built as a private airstrip next to the Tel Aviv power station in the 1930's (in fact, the runway is perilously close to the two tall towers), Sde Dov (also known as Sde Tov) was the first airbase used by the newly formed Cheyl Ha'Avir during the War of Independence (1948). Mustang's, Spitfire's, S-199's and other assorted odd-lots all operated from the single runway.
Now the home base of Arkia Airlines (De Havilland Dash-7 and Twin Otters) as well as being used by El Al, the Air Force still uses the airport as a base. Squadrons that operate from the base include 100 Sqn (Cessna 206), 125 Sqn (Bell 206), 128 (U-21/C-12), 129 Sqn (Cessna 206), 135 Sqn (Dornier Do-28) and 191 Sqn (RU-21/RC-12). As this base is perhaps the most accessible of all IDF/AF bases, it is well worth the ten minute drive from Tel-Aviv. Even if you can't get in, the view from the street is still worth it.
Ben Gurion International Airport (Lod Air Base)
Known to all and sundry, Ben Gurion International Airport needs no introduction. The gateway to Israel, this airport is the busiest civil airport in the Middle East, except on a Saturday. Although no scheduled services are flown by El Al on the Sabbath, aircraft are still serviced and flown. All the heavy transport squadrons of the IDF/AF are based at Lod, as the military side is called. The runways are shared by the military and civilian traffic. The manufacturing and modification facilities of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) are also located at Ben Gurion.
Ramat David Air Base
As you near this airbase in Northern Israel, your heart-beat quickens as your ears pulsate to the sound of the F-110 GE-100 engine that powers the Barak (Lightning), as the F-16C is known in Israeli service. Home to 109, 110 and 117 Squadrons who fly the F-16C/D and 190 Sqn with their Hughes MD 500 helicopters, this base will excite even the most battle-hardened enthusiast. Once inside the base, you are greeted by the gate-guard, a Meteor F.8 (number 013). There is no problem about taking notes and making drawings, but cameras are strictly verboten. It is at this base that I became aware of the different attitude to flight-crew clothing as compared to overseas air forces. Although the crew all proudly wear their squadron/aircraft patches, there is a total lack of rank or occupational insignia. Dictated by combat experience, you are unable to tell the difference between, example, a colonel pilot and a sergeant flight-engineer. No flashy stars, bars or wings here!
Squadron 117 was formed in 1953 equipped with Meteors, progressing via the Mirage 111 to the F-16A. It was this squadron, together with 110 Squadron, that attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. The squadron is now equipped with the F-16C/D, the most potent single-engined fighter in the world. Covering the walls of the lounge, next to the briefing room, plaques are mounted for each air-to-air victory achieved by the squadron, detailing the aircraft type and date. Aircraft ranged from the Vampire, Hunter, Su-17 and MiG-21 to the MiG-25.
After the briefings we were led to the simulator building were a novice pilot was just completing his take-off checks. The simulator is fully functional and incorporates a large dome over the motionless cockpit onto which the computer generated graphics are displayed. Outside the dome are three instructor/operator stations incorporating numerous VDU's displaying the visual graphics, cockpit instruments, maps, parameters, etc. After take-off and the ensuing low-level flight, the maps displayed circles around geographical locations, together with audio tones.
Palmachim Air Base
Situated in central Israel, Palmachim is the main IAF/DF helicopter base. Squadrons based at this large station include 124 (Bell 212/UH-60), 127 (AH-64),160 and 161 (AH-1), 193 (HH-65) and 200 (RPV's). The 124 Squadron, our hosts, have recently become the first Israeli unit to be equipped with the UH-60A, having being formed in January 1958 with the Sikorsky S-58. After the briefing we were taken onto the flight line to inspect the two Bell-212's on alert. One was configured for Casevac duties, while the other was a trash-hauler. Larger and more powerful than the early Hueys, these machines will be retired in the near future.
Hatzerim Air Base
Hatzerim is home to the impressive Airforce Museum as well as being an operational base, home to various training squadrons. The museum occupies the north-west corner of the sprawling Negev Desert base and as one wanders around the collection, F-4's, A-4's, Queenairs and Tsukit's (Magister's) continually fly in the pattern overhead. If you're really lucky, who may even see an E-2 Hawkeye.
Over 140 perfectly restored and preserved aircraft are orderly laid out in rows, with each aircraft described by a neat sign. Only the airworthy aircraft, of which there are about 15, are kept under cover, the dry desert air protecting the others....The range of aircraft on display covers the entire story of air warfare in Israel, from the light singles and Rapides used by the Sherut Avir in Palestine to the Spitfire, Mustang, Mystere, Mirage III, Kfir, Phantom II and A-4. The list is endless, with many rare types such as the Republic Seabee. The transports are not ignored, with several examples of the Dakota, Noratlas, Stratocruiser and B-707 on display. Even foreign aircraft are represented. Apart from the obvious MiG-15, MiG-17 and MiG-21 examples (even a MiG-19 tailplane), one of the two airworthy Syrian Gazelles is also on display. To add a bit of extra flavour, a Chilian Hunter and British Vampires are also displayed.
Adjacent, and part of, the official display are numerous revetments containing about 40 additional airframes. These range from complete Tzukit's to recognizable Alouette II, Spitfire, Mustang, and Harvard airframes, amongst others....If you're prepared to walk, you will find a dump containing the remains of Cessna's, Boeing-Stearman Kaydet's and other unrecognizable pieces of aluminium. Also on display are weapons, drones and captured radar and SAM batteries.
Source: Israeli Air Force Tour.