Israel Air Force F-16s line up for takeoff at an air base in Israel.
(photo credit: IDF)
After a 36-year love affair with a jet that became the backbone of the Israel Air Force, the remaining F-16A and F-16B (Netz) fighter jets have made their last flight.
According to the IDF Spokesman, the US-made F-16s “changed the operational capacity of the air force. With their agility, maneuverability and power, and with pilots who are among the world’s best, the jet changed the face of the Middle East.”
Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel lost 102 aircraft, the IAF realized that a new advanced multi-role jet was needed. Israel’s F-16s were originally destined for the Imperial Iranian Air Force, but with the fall of the shah following the Iranian revolution and the subsequent rise of the fundamentalist Islamic regime, Jerusalem finalized a deal to acquire the advanced jet from the US.
The first four F-16s landed in Israel in July of 1980 and were operational within a few weeks.
The F-16B variants are two-seater aircraft, flown by a pilot and a navigator, while the F-16A is flown by a single pilot.
The fleet ushered in a new era for the Israel Air Force, one that continues to this day with the ability to carry out preemptive strikes at enemies far from Israel’s borders.
On June 7, 1981 eight F-16A jets took off from Israel on Operation Opera, Israel’s most daring raid, to strike at the heart of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program, the nuclear reactor at Osirak.
Flying more than 2,000 miles round trip, the F-16As were able to carry out their mission by aerial refueling, replenishing their two, 370-gallon external tanks under the wings and centrally mounted 300-gallon tanks.
A few weeks after Operation Opera, a flight of Syrian MiG-21s attempting to intercept Israeli A-4 Skyhawks over Lebanon were intercepted by their F-16 escorts. Lt-Col. Amir Nachumi, the squadron leader and leader of the second formation during Operation Opera, downed a Syrian MiG, making him the first pilot in the world to shoot down an enemy fighter craft in an F-16.
Since then the F-16s have been used extensively in combat, and of the 67 kills achieved by the F-16 worldwide, 47 are accredited to Israel. In the 1982 Peace for the Galilee campaign, 40 Syrian jets were downed by the IAF’s F-16s. The jets also took part in Operation Grapes of Wrath, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Protective Edge as well as Operation Pillar of Defense.
With the F-16C/D Barak, one of the most advanced F-16s ever built, and the more advanced F-16I Sufa, Israel flies the largest contingent of F-16s outside the United States, with close to 300 of the jets. All the aircraft have been heavily modified with Israeli-made avionics, self-protection systems, radar and advanced weapons such as the Python 4 & 5 air-to-air missiles and the Popeye & Spice AGM’s.
The air force is currently examining the option of buying advanced versions of the F-15 to replace the older fighters and the squadron flying the F16A/Bs will now fly the more advanced F-16 upgrades, the F16-D (Barak) the F-16I (Sufa).
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