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IAF Aircraft Inventory: Sud-Ouest S.O. 4050 Vautour

In 1951, Sud-Ouest flew its S.O. 4000 experimental bomber and the trials were so promising that the type was rapidly developed as the S.O. 4050 multi-role combat aircraft. Three variants of the Vautour were developed : 

  • Vautour IIA - The cannon/bomb armed single seat attack aircraft first flew on December 4th 1953. The French air force had ordered 300 examples of the variant but only 30 were built, 25 of which were sold to Israel.

  • Vautour IIB - The two seat bomber with a provision for a load of 4500kg carried externally and internally was equipped with a glazed nose for the navigator/ bombadier. It first flew on December 5th 1954 and 40 examples were ordered by the French, 4 were converted in Israel into reconnaissance platforms.

  • Vautour IIN - This two seat all weather/night attack fighter equipped with an interception radar in the nose took off on its maiden flight on October 16th 1952. 140 examples were ordered by the French but only 70 were produced and 7 served with the IAF.

Following test flights in early 1957 the IAF selected the Vautour to replace the de Havilland Mosquito in the long-range attack role and to counter the Arabs' Ilyushin Il-28 light jet bombers. The first Vautour, no. 13, arrived in Israel on August 1, 1957, in complete secrecy. The planes, delievered at a rate of 1 or 2 per month, carried French air forces markings and were ferried through a French air base in Tunisia to avoid detection by either the Americans or the British. Even after their arrival in Israel the planes were stored in Hazor AFB, and only on April 7th 1958 did the first takeoff in Israel take place. The planes were only revealed to the public in an air display during August 1958.

Two IAF squadron were equipped with the Vautour: the "Bat" squadron at Tel-Nof operated the IIN variant, while the "Knights of the Heart" operated the IIA and IIB out of Ramat-David. The 7 IINs were initially operated as night interceptors (alongside the IAF's Meteor NF-13s until 1960 when these were retired) but with the arrival of the Mirage IIIC in 1963 they were handed over to the "Knights of the Heart" squadron where they employed as attack aircraft. Nonetheless, they continued to fly night interceptions on such occurances as in early 1964 when they attempted to engage Egyptian MiG-19s. Some time before the Six-Day War the nose radar and other night avionics were removed and the IINs became regular attack aircraft, all except one which had been converted to a reconnaissance aircraft with cameras in the bomb bay. When Israel begun using electronic warfare (EW) measures against the Arabs, the Vautour IINs were the first to be equipped with pods designed for this purpose. Among the aircraft used for EW was a Vautour especially fitted with a Mirage IIIC nose which can be found in the IAF Museum. One IIN was destroyed in 1962 during testing of Israel's first air-to-air missile, the Shafrir.

Israel's photo-reconnaissance Vautour IIBs were equipped with an array of cameras for both day and night photography. Much like its predecessor the Mosquito, the Vautour's long range enabled it to fly far and wide in its reconnaissance role. On January 23rd 1962 a Vautour overflew Egypt all the way to the Libyan border despite repeated attempts to intercept it. The IIBs also gathered the intelligence which made operation "Moked", the opening strike of the Six-Day War, possible, and in the mid 1960s were the first aircraft to provide evidence of Soviet SAMs in Egypt.

Shortly after the delieveries of the Vautour had been completed in 1958 the Vautour squadrons settled into their training regime, as with all Israeli aircraft of the time, often interrupted by live combat action. The first encounter between the IAF and the MiG-19 was on August 16, 1959, when two Vautours engaged 4 Egyptian MiGs on the Israeli-Egyptian border. Despite shots fired on both sides, no aircraft were hit. Throughout the 1960s Israel was engaged with Syria in what had become known as the "War for the Water", a series of engagements aimed to foil Syrian attempts to divert Israel's water sources which ultimately led to the Six-Day War. As the IAF's primary attack aircraft, Vautours attacked Syrian positions on a number of occasions. On March 16th 1962 three Vautours attacked artillery positions on the Golan Heights and on March 20th a single Vautour chased an Ilyushin Il-28 all the way to Damascus before being ordered to turn back. In the biggest IAF operation since the 1956 operation "Kadesh", November 13th 1964 saw five Vautours taking part in attacks against the entire Syrian array on the Golan. One was hit by anti aircraft fire but managed to complete its mission and return safely to base. More attacks took place on May 13th, July 13th, July 14th and August 15th 1966.

On the morning of June 5th 1967 two electronic warfare Vautour IINs from Ramat David AFB arrived at their stations, one near the Israeli-Egyptian border and the other off the Egyptian coast. Once both aircraft were in position they switched on their jamming pods, disabling Egyptian air defenses and opening the way for the dozens of Israeli aircraft that were making their way in complete radio silence to strike at Egypt's air bases. Only the "Knights of the Heart" squadron at Ramat David operated the Vautour at the outbreak of the Six Days War, and it relocatted its 19 aircraft to Tel-Nof shortly before the outbreak of hostilities in order to be closer to the battlefield. During operation "Moked" the Vautours played an important part in the strikes against Egypt's, Jordan's, Syria's and Iraq's air bases, attacking the farthest and most heavily defended, those which were home to Egypt's heavy bombers, the Tupolev Tu-16. Bases attacked included Ras-Banas, Abu-Sweir, Bnei-Swif, Luxor and Cairo West, bases where the heavy bombers were based or had attempted to escape to. Over Abu-Sweir 4 Vautours encountered 4 MiG-21s. One aircraft was shot down but another pair managed to complete their mission unhampered, the third Vautour keeping the MiGs busy until IAF Mirages arrived to give assistance. The Mirages downed three of the MiGs allowing the third Vautour to complete its mission as well. By noon of June 5th,the Egyptian heavy bombers force had been destoryed (8 Tu-16s and 8 Antonov An-12s at Luxor alone) and the Vautours could be allocated to other efforts - The attacks against Jordan, Syria and Iraq during operation Moked's later phases and against Arab ground forces as well.

On the afternoon of June 5th a trio of IAF Vautours attacked Iraq's H3 air base, the Iraqi air force's closest base to Israel as well as a refuge for Jordanian aircraft which had escaped the earlier devastation of their air force. 6 MiG-21s, 3 Hawker Hunters and a transport aircraft were destroyed while evading a pair of Iraqi MiG-21s. On June 6th 4 more Vautours, accompanied by a Mirage pair, returned to H3 after more MiG-21s were reported to have arrived there. a MiG and 2 Hunters were shot down, one Hunter by a Vautour, while 5 more Iraqi aircraft were destroyed on the ground. A third attack was staged on June 7th after Iraqi activity against Israel was stepped up. 4 Vautours and 4 Mirages once more headed for the distant air base and in the IAF's most disastrous operation of the war, 2 Vautours and a Mirage were shot down. An Iraqi MiG-21 and 2 Hawker Hunters were downed as well.

Much like the rest of the IAF, the majority of Vautour sorties following operation "Moked" were flown in assistance of Israel's ground forces on the various fronts. On the evening of June 5th, besides continued strikes against whatever remained of the Arab air forces, Vautours attacked Jordanian armour on its way to Jerusalem and Jordanian artillery shelling central Israel. On June 6th the Vautours were tasked with the destruction of Egyptian SA-2s, once again employing the electronic warfare Vautour IINs. Other strikes were also flown against Egyptian armour in the Sinai. During the last three days of the fighting the Vautours were turned against the Syrians on the Golan Heights in anticipation of the Israeli airborne assault against the heights.

Eight Vautours were lost during the Six-Day War, yet the end of the war did not bring an end to the hostilities between Israel and its neighbours. Although the losses sustained during the war impeded the type's operation, Vautours repeatedly participated in attacks against terrorist positions in Jordan and southern Lebanon as well as against regular Arab forces. On November 7th 1967 8 Vautours attacked Jordanian artillery, while more attacks took place during January 1968. In April 1969, one aircraft was lost during such an attack. In late July 1969 Vautours participated in attacks on Egyptian forces on the Suez Canal while Syrian artillery was attacked during August. The Vautours also continued to play their reconnaissance and electronic warfare roles, on December 1st 1967 Vautour no. 30 was lost to Egyptian ground fire while on a reconnaissance flight over the Suez Canal.

The new fighters supplied to Israel in the late 1960s by the U.S.A. had rendered the Vautours obsolete. A-4 Skyhawks and F-4 Phantoms replaced the Vautours in all their roles including photo-reconnaissance and electronic warfare and in early 1972 the type was retired, the "Knights of the Heart" squadron re-equipping with Skyhawks.

Specification: Societe Nationale des Constructions Aeronautiques du Sud-Quest S.O.4050 Vautour II-A
Type: single seat tactical strike fighter.
Powerplant: 2 * SNECMA Atar 1201E-3.
Performance: max speed - 593 knots, rate of climb - 11,820 ft per minute, service ceiling - 49,000ft, range - 3,000km.
Weights: empty - 10,500kg, max takeoff - 21,000kg.
Dimensions: length - 15.10m, length - 15.57m, height - 4.77m.
Armament: 4 * 30mm cannons whith provision for up to 6 250/400kg bombs carried internally and 4 * 124/2 * 450 bmobs or 76 rockets under the wings.

Sources: IAF Inventory