Although the Defender prototype took off on its first flight on August 1974, the type's ancestors had enjoyed a long and successful career long before. Based on the Model 269 (TH-55 Osage), first flown in September 1955, and the Model 369 (OH-6 Cayuse), 1,417 examples of which served with the US Army, the Defender was Hughes's response to international demand for an affordable anti tank helicopter, based on the civilian Model 500D. Designed for those unable to afford the AH-1 Cobra or the AH-64 Apache, the Defender is easily distinguished from the Cayuse by its 'T' tail and its five blade main rotor. It also features self sealing fuel tanks and an engine inlet particle separator and can also be fitted with extra armour and a large variety of weapons and sensors. The type has enjoyed immense success and equips many air forces and law enforcement agencies around the world, including those of Kenya, South Korea and Taiwan.
The Israeli Air Force got its first glimpse of the new Defender during 1975. The IAF had only begun operating attack helicopters following the Yom Kippur war, beginning with the Bell AH-1 Cobra. The new helicopter, however, with its low cost, only a third of the Cobra's, and its agility and payload capabilities proved to be very attractive. After a Defender arrived in Israel in July 1977 for evaluation which included live firing trials, the IAF decided to purchase 32 examples of the type. Deliveries of the new helicopters begun in December 1979, and in April 1980 a new squadron was finally formed, the "Shooting Lightning" squadron, operating the Defenders. 6 more 500MDs were purchased in 1984.
Nicknamed 'Lahatut' (trick), Israeli Defenders were equipped with a turret mounted electro-optical sight and four TOW missiles, two on each side of the fuselage, although these could be replaced by rocket launchers (picture on the left show both configurations). The helicopters' first operational sortie came only three months after the formation of their squadron, when two Defenders attacked a terrorist installation in southern Lebanon during July 1980. In the years before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the helicopters saw a great deal of action in fighting with Palestinian terrorists operating from southern Lebanon against Israel's northern borders. Only with the launching of operation "Peace for Galilee" on June 6th 1982 however, was the Defender able to demonstrate its full abilities. The helicopters of the "Shooting Lightning" squadron assisted Israeli ground forces in the fighting that erupted at the Lebanese-Israeli border and accompanied them all the way north to the Beirut-Damascus highway and the Lebanese capital itself. Defenders took part in all aspects of the fighting and played a large number of varied roles. At first attacking Palestianian terrorist cells, armour and anti aircraft guns, their most important roles were in confronting the Syrian forces that entered the fighting on June 9th. In the world's first tank vs. anti-tank helicopter battle, IAF Defenders attacked Syrian armour engaged with Israeli armour on the Beirut-Damascus highway, in one of the largest tank battles in Israeli history.
Besides the destruction of Syrian armour, the Defenders also played an important part in the destruction of the Syrian SAM array in the Bekaa valley, flying in low to destroy ground based radars which might have detected incoming fighter bombers. During the fighting with Syrian armour, a single 'Lahatut' was shot down after Syrian tanks detected a pair and fired at them. Although the helicopters were not hit directly, shrapnel from an exploding shell destroyed the tail and rear propeller of one of them, causing it to crash.
Operation "Peace for Galilee" did not bring about an end to fighting between Israel and Lebanese based guerrillas and Defenders continued to take part in operations against these during the 1980s and 90s. In July 1993 Israel launched operation "Accountability" and IAF 500MDs once again went into action, attacking 20 targets on the first day alone. By the mid 1990s, with the arrival of more AH-1 Cobras and the new AH-64 Apaches, the Defenders were withdrawn from front line service. The helicopters continued to serve with the IAF flight school, training pilots for service with the front line squadrons. They were retired shortly later.
Sources: IAF Inventory