The Air Force has always played a dominant role in Independence Day celebrations, partly because it is a symbol of Israel’s military might and past victories. And the 105 Squadron of F-16 fighter jets, the cream of the crop of modern air power, represents the history of the entire Air Force.
As Israel celebrates its 63rd birthday this year, the 105 squadron marks its 60th anniversary.
Past members of the squadron include the late astronaut Ilan Ramon, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and the renowned air force commander Zurik Lev.
In 1950, two years after Israel gained independence, the 105 squadron was officially formed, and its pilots flew British Spitfire planes to defend the skies over the newly formed and vulnerable state.
Pilots then moved on to the Mosquitos, and then to the US-made Mustang planes.
From 1958 onwards, the 105 squadron, also known as the Scorpion squadron due to its emblem, began flying French-made B-2 Sambad (Dassault Super-Mystere-type fighter jets).
“With the Sambad, we could finally break the sound barrier,” said Lt.-Col. Amir, a member of the current generation of highly trained pilots who fly in the squadron today.
Amir spoke to The Jerusalem Post
last week, and gave an overview of the squadron’s legacy, and an insider’s account of what it was like to be a part of the coveted unit.
The Sambad squadron was the largest in the Air Force, and played a decisive role in eliminating the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, as well as striking enemy ground forces during the 1967 Six Day War.
After the war, the fruitful alliance with France had ended, and by 1969, a French arms embargo on Israel was in place.
Israel Air Force engineers felt the time had come to upgrade the Sambad. They installed an engine taken from the recently imported US-made A4H Skyhawk in the Sambad.
The result was a fleet of powerful fighter jets known as the Sa’ars, which were put into action during the 1973 Yom Kippur War against invading Syrian forces in the Golan and Egyptian forces in the Sinai.
The Sa’ar pilots destroyed more than 150 Egyptian tanks during the Yom Kippur War.
A year after the war, the 105 Squadron began flying US-made Phantom warplanes.
Those jet fighters took part in the First Lebanon War, engaging and downing Syrian MiG-21 jets over Lebanon.
Throughout its history, the squadron has lost 35 fighter pilots. In the 1980s, the 105 was reformed as an F-15 squadron. The squadron then closed down in 1987, before being reformed in 1992 and taking up its current form as an F-16 fleet.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the 105 squadron jets hunted Hezbollah rocket launching crews on the ground, and carried out a range of air-to-air, airto- ground and reconnaissance missions.
Its pilots also took part in the 2008- 2009 Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, striking targets to stem rocket fire on southern Israel.
Today, Amir said, its pilots fly the F-16 Barak and F-16i Sufa jets, both two-seater planes, and continue to take part in sorties over terrorist targets in Gaza.
The planes also have long-range strike capabilities, Amir added.
“They can take part in missions over Gaza, and places further away,” he said.
“Our planes have a variety of weapons systems, including laser-guided missiles,” Amir said. “All of our missile systems are autonomous,” he added.
“The F-16s are currently undergoing an avionic communications upgrade,” Amir noted.
The changes would see more advanced electronics placed in the cockpits which should serve the jets through to 2020.
Looking ahead to the next generation of warplanes, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Amir said he believed his squadron would probably not be the first in the Air Force to receive the new planes.
Other squadrons are due to be reformed sooner, making them better candidates to receive the F-35s, he explained.
Describing his experiences as a pilot in the 105, Amir said, “There is a tradition and a comradeship here, a very unique friendship that characterize this squadron. Many of the pilots who move on to other things end up coming back to us after a while,” he added. “People miss being a part of this.”
As Israel enters its 64th year, the pilots of the 105 squadron continue take off from the Hatzor Air Base, near Ashdod, and patrol the country’s skies, fulfilling one of their main tasks by ensuring that air to air defenses are maintained.
In any future possible mission, the pilots know they could be called upon to fly near or far missions to protect millions of Israelis down below.