The Israeli Air Force began during the 1948 War of Independence, built on the “Sherut Avir” that existed for six months prior, and that was planned with the assistance of those who had served in the RAF and USAF. In the earliest days of air might in Israel, people volunteered their knowledge and skills, and parts and equipment were secured from many places.
The destination to learn more about Israel’s Air Force today is the Hatzerim Air Force Base, home to the IAF Museum and Flight Academy.
This photo essay, presented in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, portrays an Israeli Air Force Graduation and Air Show at the Hatzerim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert (located not far from the city of Beer Sheva), which took place on December 24, 2018. I participated on an organized trip to the event, sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh and with the encouragement of Danny Grossman, a veteran of both the US and Israel Air Forces.
The Hatzerim base was the first airfield constructed by Israel (the IAF had inherited or built upon other air fields from the British). The base, constructed over a number of years, become operational in the fall of 1966 and, prior, in March of that year, the flight school had opened in this location.
The flight academy program is intense – said to be the most intense in the Israel Defense Forces, lasting three years and involving five stages of training and education that leads to professional aviation proficiency as pilots, navigators, transportation pilots, helicopter pilots, and combat pilots.
The base is also the location of a historical survey of the IAF. A museum open to the public chronicles its history, missions, and operations, as well as personalities of the Air Force, with the exhibition of more than 150 planes and other aircraft (including those captured from the enemy), as well as today’s aircraft in use that can at times be seen and heard flying overhead.
The flight academy Course 177 (there have been that many training programs over the years) graduation featured a marching band and cadets, and assignment of rank (in most cases lieutenant). Two days later, in another graduation ceremony, they would receive their wings – aircrew member insignia. The graduates will serve seven years.
The photographs here also present some of the air show moments of this event – planes and copters – and there is a short video (6 minutes) that can be watched online (bitly.com/IAF-grad-airshow-photo-essay) that will help amplify the photography. It shows moments of the IAF Academy graduation ceremony and a couple of flights – helicopters flying overhead and offering congratulations and a cargo plane dropping supplies by parachute. Seen in this clip are also some of the marching in formation and awarding of rank. The Air Force program is a three-year intensive training, and only a small percentage make it until the completion.
One of the photos in this photo essay shows my ticket to the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony (the ceremony that awards rank). The theme was 70 years since Operation Horev, which encompassed, as mentioned on the IAF website (iaf.org.il), “243 sorties, aerial dogfights, and multiple bombings in the Negev Desert” and was “the largest IDF operation during the 1948 War of Independence. The goal: capturing the Negev and expelling the Egyptian military from Israel’s territory.”
When you visit Israel, do consider a trip the Hatzerim Israel Air Force Museum – it features history, guided tours, and about 150 aircraft. Many are hoping that it will get the funding to improve its appearance and properly preserve the equipment and military relics.
Photography and Text
by Judah S. Harris