IAF flyovers are one of the most popular parts of the country’s Independence Day celebrations, with millions of Israelis watching combat jets, transport aircraft and helicopters fly over the entire of the country, from the North to the beaches along the Mediterranean coast to the desert in the South.This year’s fly-over saw Israeli aircraft maneuvering alongside three Greek F-16s and several transport planes: a Polish C-17 Globemaster III, a Canadian Casa C-295, and Hercules C-130s from the UK and Austria – flying over 49 cities and towns from Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat to Kiryat Shmona in the North.“For us, it’s a great honor to be invited by the Israeli Air Force to participate in this flyover,” Austrian Air Force commander Maj.-Gen.Karl Gruber told The Jerusalem Post before taking to the skies.“It signals the growing relationship between Austria and Israel,” he continued, stressing that “it is very important [for us] to be here and that we were invited.
“We are also building up our relationship with the Israeli Air Force and we are looking for future common projects for pilot training and other special exercises,” he said, explaining that Austria’s air force – which participates in missions in North African countries – hopes to learn from the IAF how to fly their aircraft in desert conditions. “The Israeli Air Force is one of the best in the world and we can learn a lot from them,” said the commander.Gruber told the Post that his relationship with Israel began in 1980 when he first visited with his wife. “This is my seventh or eighth time in Israel and I always enjoy it. It’s like coming home to my second country.”A helicopter pilot, Gruber said that while this time he would only “be an observer in the cockpit,” he clearly enjoyed himself during the flight, peering out of the windows of the C-130 as it flew over the coast.“It didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him to participate,” Austria’s Ambassador Martin Weiss, who also joined the flight, told the Post following the flyover. “I thought it was a great idea and he was all up for it. This was an open door that I had to run through.”For Weiss, taking part in the flyover was “a different perspective” from the other years when he just watched it from the ground.“Over the past two years I saw it from the top of my roof, and this year I had a different perspective looking down – and the views were amazing, stunning. My wife took a photo of the plane and I took a photo of her looking at the plane,” Weiss said, chuckling.
According to the IDF, “the foreign participation in the annual flyover showcases Israel’s cooperation with the foreign nations and will help maintain diplomatic relations between the countries.” Weiss said that the IAF’s invitation was given two months ago and “we immediately agreed with our air force that this would be a great honor and great opportunity to participate.”The ties between the two air forces have gotten closer in recent years, Weiss said, referring to pilot training and other aerial exercises such as the Blue Flag drill which took place in Israel in November.According to Weiss, both Austria and Israel are looking to further strengthen the relationship between the two air forces, as “both sides are very happy with the participation and cooperation. The interest and the will is there from both sides.”Dozens of Israeli aircraft including F-35s, F-16s, F-16Is and M-346 training planes joined in the flyovers, along with Apache, CH-53 Sea Stallion and UH-60 BlackHawk helicopters. A Boeing 707 refueling aircraft, C-130 Hercules and C-130J Super Hercules transport planes as well as Beachcraft B200 King Air and Gulfstream V aircraft, used primarily for reconnaissance and intelligence missions, also wowed the crowds.The flyover also saw the participation of civilian aircraft including Arkia’s Boeing 757 and Embraer E-Jet and El Al’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The Israel Police participated with three police H125 Airbus helicopters and three Air Tractor AT-802s belonging to the police fire brigade.And of course, the IAF’s acrobatics squadron carried out maneuvers throughout the event.This year spectators in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Tiberias witnessed a special parachuting demonstration of over 100 past and present commanders and combat soldiers jumping from a Super Hercules 130J transport into the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) before being picked up by Shayetet 13 naval commandos.