Love story between Paris and Jerusalem

100 years of aviation in the Holy Land.

By STEPHANE COHEN
December 25, 2013 00:04
2 minute read.
Generic airplane

Generic airplane. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Like most children in the world, I grew up discovering, loving and playing with small airplanes. My passion for airplanes paved the way for me to join the Israel Air Force in 1997, three years after I made aliya from France. But the air force I came to know had nothing to do with the country’s first air force, or the “Air service,” the clandestine Jewish Air Force of the Hagana.

On November 29, 1947, on the eve of the UN partition plan resolution, the yet to be born State of Israel had some 16-25 aircraft (this figure varies depending on the source) of various kinds, such as RWD (8,13,15) Taylorcraft, Sea-Bee and BE-550. In the 1950s France became the main supplier of aircraft to Israel. And as it turns out, many aviation experiences and historical facts link Israel and France.

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For example, 100 years ago, on November 20, 1913, French aviator Jules Védrines took off from Nancy in Eastern France in his single-engine aircraft, a Blériot XI, flying through the Holy Land to reach Egypt. Védrines was the first man to fly to and land in the Holy Land. His journey (which I have made myself) had many stops such as Prague, Vienna, Belgrade, Istanbul (then Constantinople) and Beirut.

Jules made this journey as part of a competition organized by the Paris-based newspaper Le Matin and the Air National League to fly from Paris to Cairo. He landed on the seashore north of Jaffa on December 27, 1913. On December 29, 1913, Védrines reached Heliopolis in Cairo after an adventure of 5,600 kilometers.

65 years after the birth of the State of Israel, the IAF is known to be one of the most modern in the world. In addition to that, Israel has its own aerospace industry, developing and producing its own satellites, launch vehicles, drones, aircraft and missiles, being a world leader in many of these fields.

Today, the IAF has acquired new advanced aircraft like the Hercules C-130J, and is expecting to start taking delivery in 2016 at the earliest of the first of 20 F-35s, advanced fighter aircraft that combine stealth with advanced mission systems.

Many argue the F-35 will be the last manned fighter aircraft; that in the near future Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UA Vs) will be able to conduct most of air missions.



Man was always behind pioneering adventures.

The Wright brothers piloted the first powered airplane.

110 years ago, on December 17, Orville Wright flew his aircraft on a very short flight of 12 seconds that covered 37 meters. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, was the first human to journey into outer space.

Will this 100-year-old human adventure end and leave the aerial theater “human-free,” or will pilots continue to play an integral role? Decades ago, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said at a ceremony at the Tel Nof Air Base that pilots represent the ability of man to triumph over nature. The men behind the machines have always been the key to victory. I do hope humans will continue to be relevant in the age of the machines.

The author is a IDF Maj. (Res.) and a security analyst and a former liaison officer to UN forces. He is a lay historian with an interest in general history of the Middle East.

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