Israel Base Visits
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...
Day 2 began with an unhappy view of cloudy sky above the sea from our hotel room, but as the clouds dissappeared on our way south to Sde Dov, a partly regional and military airfield in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, our mood became also better. A ramp tour of the civil part of the airfield was foreseen which was very interesting as the airlines and the aircraft flying there are only very rarely spotted at other places, let alone the chance of seeing them over here in Europe. We were warmly welcomed by the airport manager who explained the history and the current status of Sde Dov. Build in 1938 the airfield served as the homebases for Tiger Moths that were used for powerline recconaissance flights. In the course of the time it became a combined military and civil airfield. Furthermore what has been the runway at the beginning became a taxiway with the construction of the main 1748m long runway that runs parallel to the coastline. The airport currently handels 35.000 civil movements/year and 700.000 passengeres, the main part using the Arkia domestic connections with their ATR 42/72 and Dash-7 aircraft. Still wearing civil markings three Dash-7 were also spotted at the airfield that wore experimental titles and currently undergo some kind of conversion. Some sources speak of 'fishing surveillance', the true reason however remains unknown. The military aircraft flying to SDV are mainly Beech 200s, RC-12s and two C-130 flights per day. Unfortunately at that day the civil part of the airport was closed, so no active Arkia or Israir aircraft could be photographed. I would have really liked that, as the runway is parallel to the coastline which offers a beautiful background. To watch the military side was also of interest as the preparations for the static display on Independence Day the next day were going on, but we hoped that good photos of that would officially be possbile during our visit the next day.
Sde Dov Airport (SDV)
Preparations for the Open Doors Day
We then left to Tel Nof, passing the Hatzor airbase where we saw 4 F-16s flying over us while we drove by. At Tel Nof we were allowed to see a preview of the static display for the part of the celebrations held at that airbase. And it was an amzing view! Nearly every aircraft of the IDF was present in the line-up, also the most modern jet types, the F-15I and F-16I. For the static display one of the three main runways of the airfield was used and it was quite an experience to be allowed to take photos of nearly every type of modern aircraft of the IAF. Besides the aircraft there were also fire engines present, and the technical services also showed off their daily activities at the airfield. The 90 minutes on base were over quite - or shall I better write 'too' - fast. One final shot of the F-15 gateguard and the day there was over. Exhausted, but excellent!!! Already the trip was well worth it.
Tel Nof Airbase - F-15C & F-15I
F-16A, F-16D, F-16I
Jet Ranger, UH-60, AH-1, AH-64, CH-53
A-4N, F-4E, C-130E, RC-12, Tzukit
UAV, some detail shots
The evening was spent in a nice restaurant and I did not once again have the time to go swimming in the Mediteranean Sea as the celebrations on the eve of the Independence Day were going on right opposite our hotel: on the main city square a lot of people gathered and there was live music, food and also something to drink. In pursuit of an old tradition, which is nowadays only allowed in that city, children were running around with cans and spraying foam onto each oter. At around 10pm the firework display started which also put an adequate end to a very successfull day.
The following Tuesday, April 24th, was the main reason for this trip: the Israeli Independence Day. During this day the Air Force also opens several airbases to the public and presents them their inventory. This year Ramat David, the Technical School at Haifa and Sde Dov were amongst the bases that held these public days and which were chosen for our visit.
An early arrival at Ramat David was needed to do all three bases, though we had some worries during the drive there due to the layer of clouds that became thicker and thicker as we drive inland and approached the airfield, which is located in the north-east of Israel. Fortunately with the time waiting to get the permission to enter the airfield the sun became stronger and the clouds disappeared. Getting on the base was quite delayed as the person in charge that has been contacted in advance was not reachable. Standing at the entrance we were even more amazed that the Israeli public was not allowed to take cameras with them (and handguns had also to be left outside the base, quite an unusual view for me). Besides that the parking and the masses of people that rushed in were equal to the airshows I know. Officials cited the expected number of vistors that day to be around 40-50.000 at this Air Base. As we already got some delay due to the wait we had to hurry through the static display, though not rushing too much as we wanted to get some nice photos from every aircraft on site. To do so we also got the support by two very nice ladies of the Air Force Staff that tried to remove water bottles or chairs that obstructed our photos. The line-up was once again impressive: UAVs, several F-16s and F-15s, an A-4N, many helicopters, among them two AH-64 Apache helicopters (A & D version) and even more important, a new type for us: the Dauphin. One of these also overflew the public several times that day and so we finally got some flying photos of an IDF aircraft.
A nice change was also the IDF arial demonstration team flying 4 Tzukits from Hatzerim. Three passes and a break directly overhead and in line with the public crowdline was what has been shown by them. Not a lot but enough to get some decent photos as well. Even more amazed about that flying seemed the people at the show about that group of foreigners, which ran around, partly with several cameras hanging around their necks and who were allowed to take photos. I have been approached several times, people touched my camera and said something to me that I could not understand. As a reply I only showed towards one of the nice escorts, and people's views were even more am afterwards as we have got a permission for photography... When Ramat David was done we had a quick ice cream on the way out and one of our group members was in worries as we were quite behind our planned schedule and his flight was already in the afternoon.
Ramat David - F-16s
F-16 killmark, F-15I, F-15C, A-4N
Helicopter, AH-64A, AH-64D, CH-53, UH-60
Dauphin, Jet Ranger, Tzukit, RC-12
Tzukit Display Team
So we headed towards Haifa and overgave him with two others, who also had their return flight the same evening, to a taxi to go to the TLV Airport (we later got a message that all of them got their flights that day!). Then we continued to a parking place where we took the shuttle bus to the main entrance for the public day at Haifa. There once again the same procedure: phonecalls, security checks, amazed people about our cameras, two nice escorts and hurrying down the static display line. At that airfield we got some more UAVs to photograph, another Apache, an olive UH-60, F-16 and also the possibility to take photos of the base collection which was very nice. For example it included the very first Israeli F-4E 2000 Phantom.The variety was really high due to the fact that some of these aircraft were used to train the technicans on these aircraft, so even if one aircraft is not based directly there it has its place in the hangars for teaching. A rare view was the single seater F-16C '535' with a Scorpion on its tail, as this squadron is currently transformed to a solely two-seater squadron. It was around 1pm when we thanked our escorts there for their very usefull support and left the airfield after the second ice cream that day.
Haifa - F-16s, F-15C, RC-12
Jet Ranger, C-130E, UAVs
Haifa Base Collection
As the exhibition at Sde Dov, our third planned stop that day, was closing around 3pm there was no chance of getting there in time due to the delay at Ramat David in the morning. But we were really happy about the two excellent visits that day and already saw what has been put on display at Sde Dov the day before. I only would have liked a nice photo of one of an IDF Gulfstream, one of which has been exhibited at Sde Dov, but something has to remain for the next time...
On the way back we drove a little bit around the very nice harbour city Haifa and stopped at the Technical Museum were a Kfir is presented in the outside exhibition. Another example was discovered in a private garden near the motorway. The evening was closed with a nice barbecue at our organizers garden with the rest of the group as most of the others left early the next day.
For my part I decided to stay a little bit longer in Israel then the 'offical' tour plan proposed and returned to Hatzerim on Wednesday morning. Though before returning to the museum I paid the Kfir at the roundabout in Be'er Sheva a second visit and could photograph it in a nice morning light and a perfectly clear blue sky. Arriving at the museum site I was very happy to see that the exhibits of the Air Force festivities the day before have not yet been removed: a local F-16I, F-15I, the highest ranking F-16A “107” with 6,5 killmarks, an Apache, Blackhawk and a Beech. Most of the static display aircraft also got light from the other side and the blue sky was another reason to take more pictures of them. Furthermore other photographic possibilities were very seductive: in the course of morning ground crews arrived to tow away first the Beech, F-16 and then the Apache and then the Blackhawk helicopter. Unfortunately obviously something on the Apache broke so that the whole action was delayed and I could not stay that long until they also moved the F-16I and F-15I. Nevertheless the other four aircraft gave some nice motives on their way out from the museum to the airfield. Flying at Hatzerim that day was also amazing: all four types based there were up in the air without interruption. The Magisters made their training rounds circling in nicely above the museum ground and in the far distance take-offs of the fast jets could be heard and seen. Many A-4s were also around. I would have never thought to be able to see this type still flying in active military service, so I was even more happier when a 4-ship of Skyhawks came in for the landing break on the runway close to the museum, even if that is still very far away. When my visit to the museum was finished a short trip in the 'desert' brought me a little bit closer to the landings of the Eagles and Fighting Falcons. However I did not stay too long there as I also wanted to see something more of the land and the people.
Hatzerim - Modern aircraft
...and some more of the regular exhibition
I was off to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem... The drive from Be'er Sheva there was really amazing, first climbing up the mountains to 470m above sea level and then going down to more than -400m to reach the lowest point on earth. The landscape was unhospitable and a hazy sky even intensified this impression. Cruising around there made much more fun than standing in the traffic jams around Tel Aviv and swimming, or even better floating, in the Dead Sea was an unforgettable experience. Late in the afternoon I continued towards Jerusalem where I would spend the night. The way there brought my past Jericho and all the barbed wire and the walls that are recently being build up around the Palestinian areas clearly brought it back to my mind that the 'Holy Land' is far from being a peacefull country.
Driving to the Dead Sea (-470m)
The old town of Jerusalem that I discoverd that evening was another amazing experience: walking through the city at night when most of the tourist have left the place and following the roots of Jesus was really impressive. The Western Wall, part of Temple Mount, which is the focus of prayer from Jews from all over the world and the temple mountain, where a mosque was errected by the muslims where the two other dominating signs and sights for the three main religions being present in the city. The next morning the way back to the airport from Jerusalem brought my once again past heavily secured fences walls and fences around Ramalla and was once of the last impressions of this country.
Impressions of Jerusalem
Before checking in at the airport I somehow got stuck in the security control as my suitcase containing my used clothes, a bottle of wine from Israel and some sweets seemed highly suspicious and I had to spend more than one hour in the security check. Needless to say that all window seats were occupied once I got to the ceck-in and I therefore did not get a chance to have a look at all the military tanker and transport aircraft that are lined up at TLV. The flights back to Munich were nearly fully booked and the transfer time at Budapest was very very lean, but even with the chaotic passenger transfer at Budapest I managed to get onboard the flight. So a very impressive short trip came to its end, end mixed emotions stay back in my mind. And next year I will try to be back, hopefully to see some flying jets then. Maybe…
! Warning: Travelling there on your own and trying to get access to the above mentioned events is not recommended !
Some of these photos seen here were also published in my 4-pages article in the German magazine Jet&Prop.
The author would like to express his sincere thanks to all the IAF people and everyone else who supported me during these journalistc visits to the different Israel Air Force bases.Thank you for rating this article.