Israel Base Visits
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Looking at the Middle East the Israel Air Force is considered to be by far the most potent and most modern one. This results from the diffcult political relationship with its neighbours and inside the country as well that translates into a highly alerted and motivated Army and Air Force all around the clock. To be able to sustain and maintain these efforts the IAF employs some of the most modern and most sophisticated aircraft, helicopters and UAVs in the world, which clearly put it ahead compared to the equipment of the neighbouring countries.
Where? around Israel
Looking at that it is more than understandable that the IAF keeps everything about itself, including its inventory, as secret as possible, making it very hard for the enthusiast to get a glimpse of its hardware. One, if not the only possibility to have a look at their aircraft is during the Air Force Day, that is celebrated in connection with the Israeli Independence day and is usually at the end of April or beginning of May, depending on the concurrence of the calendars. But even then foreigners are not allowed to enter the airfields, only with the possible exception of an accompagining Israeli, and also no one is allowed to take photos at this occasion. Luckily I got the permission to visit this event in order to cover it for a German aviation magazine, including photography. This is the story of my 5 day trip to Israel. After a very unrelaxing flight with Malev via Budapest I arrived at Tel Aviv's Ben Guiron Airport (TLY) at around 4am on a Sunday mornig. Immigration was no problem, and as the trip started at 6am there was still some time to relax. At least I thought so, but no chance, because there was no suitable place around to lay up my feet at least a little bit. Around 6am our group met our guide for the next few days, who wanted to show us a Noratlas nearby the airport for the beginning. Unfortunately the airframe had dissappeared during the last months and there was no indicastion where it could have been gone too...
We then continued to the site of IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries) just at the other end of TLV airport, where we were planned in for a visit. First we got a presentation of the company, presenting their different business activities, and of course something to drink and deliciously tasting sweets. In the course of the presentation we have been told that the company is divided into 5 main groups, three of them dealing with Military Aircraft, Space Activities, Commercial Aircraft, and Elta Systems and the Bedek aviation Group, which are also worldwide known for their expertise. After this started the first ‘frustrating’ part of tour: a walk through the IAI facility - of course not because that it was happening, but due to the fact that photography was not allowed. Unfortunately it was, because there were some nice and rare aircraft to be seen: The first stop was in the final assembly of all the UAVs, from the small Ranger up to their newest invention, the Heron. Then we were brought into another hangar with old stored aircraft and two Russian Mi-17s, that were currently undergoing maintenance there. The other aircraft included Kfirs, Mirages, the first IAI Lavi aircraft and two very rare MiG-21. Two other MiGs were spotted outside in a storage area, and the Gulfstream G150 and G200 production line was another place, that has been presented very proudly. The annual output of aircraft has been said now to have risen to around 60 per year. Aircraft freighter conversion and maintenance was the last part of this extensive tour. A lot of interesting military aircraft (KC-707, C-130) were to be seen, as well as some well known and exotic airlines, that give their jets temporarily into the hands of IAI to get new freighter aircraft. After a warm ‘Thanky You and Good Bye’ we of course still regretted that photos were not possible, and made our way further south with already a lot of impressions in our heads after only some hours in Israel.
The next stop was a restaurant on the motorway, where we all had a burger or a sandwich to get some energy for the next exhausting part of the trip: a visit to the IAF museum at Hatzerim.
On the way there we also saw our first IAF aircraft in the far distance, an Apache helicopter up in the hazy sky.
If you have already seen this museum you know that the exhibition area is quite extensive - and difficult to photograph - but the most part of the 'work' is the storage area: dozens of A-4s, F-4s and Kfirs or other Mirage-derivates wait there to be discovered. The three hours on place were very exhausting and one small tip from my side: hat and sunscreen are highly recommend there! But not only the weather was very demanding, also the exhibition: it is very laudable that the IAF has kept at least one of each of its typs flown in its inventory, and also the subvariants. So different Mirages and Kfirs are to be seen, as well as a lot of examples of the Phantom family (mainly the F-4E Kurnass, but also the Recce-versions RF-4E, RF-4E(S) and one with a special LOROP-Pod). The history of IAF fighter and transport aircraft and helicopters should be nearly complete, with airframes from the early days to the very present. Only to name a few: Avia S-99 (Czech license built Bf-109), Spitfire, Mustang, Vampire, Ouragan, Mirage and Lavi, E-2C Hawkeye, Noratlas or Super Frelon. Interesting is also the collection of former enemy aircraft: a Lebanese Vampire or an Egyptian MiG-21 were my personal highlights there. In the far distance Tzukits (IAI license built version of the Fouga Magister) were flying around with young IDF pilots on the controls, but they were too far away to be recognized more clearly. Unfortunately the selection of the shop was not very good, as only some books or T-Shirts were available, but a lot of toys. It once again became quite obvious that not many foreign aviation enthusiast visit this place.
The Israel Air Force Museum - An overview of the collection
Storage Area - Skyhawk
Mitage / Kfir
C-47, KC-79, Boeing B707
Tzukits (license-build Fouga Magister)
Going out of the museum a Kfir was photographed at a roundabaout in Be'er Sheeva. The rest of the way back via the motorway was nothing special, except that we passed the Gaza stripe in the far distance, which is surveyed by an Israeli reconnaisance balloon, and the current political situation in the country was brought back to our mind. An extremely hidden and weatherad T-6 wreck was photographed in a Kibuz nearby and was the last aircraft photo of the day. In the evening all the shops and restaurants around the hotel were closed, so we only had a sandwich and beer in the lobby, a good shower and went asleep quite fast after that very long day...