Once again there was the chance in 2011 to visit the graduation ceremony of the Israeli Air Force's (IAF) Pilot Training Course in Hatzerim. This year it was course #162 and the aerial performers did change a bit compared to the last visit in 2009.
Where? Hatzerim AB, Israel
When? June 2011
As usual a small static display welcomed the visitors before entering the grandstand area. A view of past and present aircraft was given, amongst them the state-of-the-art F-15I Ra'am and F-16I Sufa, both stationed at Hatzerim, as well as several training aircraft having their base also at this location. The same goes also for the A-4 Skyhawk, or Ahit as it is called in the IAF. As Hatzerim furthermore hosts the IAF museum they are also usually pulling out some aircraft from the museum ground over to the ceremony area. This year it was a Phantom and a Kfir C-2, which stood closely together with some helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache or AH-1 Cobra and even a Hermes 450 UAV.
On the other side of the tarmac there was furthermore a C-130 Hercules aircraft parked and a new visitor, which is part the new fire fighting squadron: an American Air Tractor AT-802. This is the newest asset of the IAF and the squadron was only set up in March 2011 and consists of seven fire fighting planes.
Two of these Air Tractors were also a new sight in the sky during the ceremony's fly-by, as was the 'Efroni'. The 'Efroni', or better known as the T-6 Texan II in the rest of the world, is another new addition to the Israel Air Force fleet and has in the meantime completely replaced the Tzukit, the venerable Fouga Magister - one of which however was still present in the static display.
Many more aircraft of the IAF's fleet joined this fly-by, giving an impressive overview of the vast and manifold inventory of the IAF. AEW and SIGINT aircraft flew by, a tanker formation and even UAVs took off for a low fly-by.
Another highlight is of course the historic fleet of the IAF museum. Consisting of a Stearman, a Harvard and a Spitfire it performs some solo flying as well as a tight formation, with the highlight being for sure the solo display of the Spitfire as well as the formation of the F-16I Sufa and the Spitfire later on during the program.
Apart from the fly-bys the ceremony's program also consists of a military music band, marching by flight school cadets, and speeches by prominent leaders. In this year this did include the "triumvirate" of Israeli politics: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak. They did join IDF Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz and IASF Commander Major General Ido Nehushtan for the very formal part of the ceremony and thus underlined the utmost importance of the Air Force for the State of Israel. Non-Hebrew speaking visitors obviously had some problems following the speeches, but the references to current politics and neighbouring countries were well understood.
Once the formalities were complete and each new pilot finally received his wings after three years of very hard training, it was time for the 'airshow' to begin.