A female air force pilot at the Hatzor base.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Twenty-two years after 23-year old South African immigrant Alice Miller successfully sued the military for her right to enlist into Israel’s Air Force, the IAF is trying to recruit more women for the prestigious pilots course.
“A plane doesn’t care if it’s a woman or a man flying it. The Air Force wants the best of the best, and not enough women try out for the pilots course,” said the Head of the Personnel Directorate Brig.-Gen Nathan Israeli on Tuesday at Haterzim Air Force Base outside Beersheba.
“Our decision to encourage more women to join the course is from operational needs; they can improve the flight school and the entire corps. The Air Force needs the best and smartest people to fly on the most advanced platforms. There are no gender issues when flying,” Israeli continued.
Despite the Air Force encouraging women to enlist, only 48 have completed the course since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miller in 1995, which opened up the pilot’s course to women. One more female pilot will join their ranks next week when the latest course will finish.
For Capt. N, a helicopter pilot who graduated along with five other female pilots in 2011 – and flew several missions during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 – “there is a difference on the ground but not in the air.”
The IAF has therefore decided to take steps to encourage more women to apply for the pilots course, including reserving high-quality positions in operational and technological units for those who don’t complete of the course.
The Air Force will also continue to promote female officers to senior positions, such as Capt. Y, who in November became the first female pilot to be appointed deputy commander of a combat squadron. An F-15 navigator, she will serve in the Spearhead Squadron which flies the fighter jets out of Tel Nof airbase in central Israel.
Women serving in the IDF (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Despite IDF data showing a decrease in motivation to join combat units, according to Israeli, there is no decrease in motivation to become pilots. In the current class there are ultra-Orthodox soldiers as well as a member of the Ethiopian community.
According to the IAF, of the approximately 600 cadets who passed the preliminary tests, about two thirds drop out in the first year of the three-year-long intensive course and only 30-40 of those who remain – about 6% of the original group – will graduate.
“To pass the pilots course you need to have a spark in your eye. We are looking for the people who don’t give up and are ready to give everything they have,” said the commander of the IAF flight school, Col. Omer.
“I won’t force anyone to be a pilot, but I would suggest to everyone to come and give the course a try, especially women. There are not enough.”
In 1949, Israel’s army became the first in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women, and in 1951 Yael Rom became the first female graduate of the prestigious pilots course. Shortly after that, however, women were barred from combat positions, including becoming pilots.
In 1998 Sheri Rahat graduated from the pilot’s course and became a navigator for the F-16 fighter jet but not technically a pilot. It wasn’t until 2000 when Lt. Roni Zuckerman, the granddaughter of two leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, became the first woman to graduate as a combat fighter pilot.