Adolph “Al” Schwimmer, founder of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) – the country’s leading aerospace company, died on Saturday at Tel Hashomer Hospital. He was 94.
Schwimmer, a native of New York, smuggled planes to Israel following the establishment of the state in 1948 and was convicted in 1950 of violating the US Neutrality Act. He was later pardoned by US President Bill Clinton in 2000.
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Following the establishment of the state, Schwimmer joined the Israeli Air Force and later founded IAI which he ran for nearly 25 years. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Life Achievement and Contribution to the Israeli Society in 2006. He is survived by his wife Rena, two children and a number of grandchildren. He will be laid to rest on Monday.
Schwimmer began his aerospace career at Lockheed Martin where he began working in 1939 as an engineer. That same year he also received his civilian pilot license. During World War II, Schwimmer worked for TWA and assisted the military in transporting supplies throughout the world.
He assisted in secretly smuggling planes to the country and worked as an engineer in the IAF. One of the planes he succeeded in purchasing for Israel were B17 bombers that bombed Cairo on their way to Israel during the War of Independence in 1948.
He then fled to Israel in 1948 and joined the IAF where he served as an engineer. He returned to the US in 1949, was arrested and convicted and heavily fined. He then established a company called Intercontinental Airways but three years later answered a request by David Ben-Gurion to return to Israel and establish a company that later evolved into IAI.
President Shimon Peres was with Schwimmer – who he called a “legend” - when Ben-Gurion gave him the green light to establish IAI.
“He was a leader that was not deterred by dangers or wars,” Peres said of his close friend. “He raised a new generation of engineers and laid the foundations for Israel’s superiority in hi-tech and advanced technology.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called Schwimmer a “man with a vision.”
“Al Schwimmer made a significant and powerful contribution to Israel’s security in its early years and laid the foundations for the establishment of IAI, helping to position Israel as technological leader,” Barak said.