IDF officer who had laser eye surgery is getting his wings

It took 18 months of rejections and deliberations for Capt. Yishai to get into pilot course.

iaf pilot 248.88 (photo credit: IAF)
iaf pilot 248.88
(photo credit: IAF)
Capt. Yishai wouldn't take no for an answer. That is how, at the age of 28, he is graduating the Israel Air Force's prestigious pilot's course this week and becoming the first fighter pilot in the country's history to have undergone laser eye surgery to improve his vision. On Thursday, Yishai will receive his pilot's wings in a ceremony at the IAF's Hatzerim Base near Beersheba. He has already been in the IDF for close to 10 years, enlisting immediately after high school. Because he wore glasses, though - he had a relatively high prescription - he could not fulfill his childhood dream and become a pilot. "I was always very interested in flying and planes, and as a kid used to say that I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up," he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week. "But I had glasses from when I was in elementary school, and I knew that even though I wanted to be a pilot, it was not possible." So at the age of 18, Yishai joined the Defense Ministry's prestigious Psagot Project, which sends gifted soldiers to the Technion in Haifa for degrees in physics and engineering and then employs them in research-and-development positions in the IDF. At 22, after receiving two university degrees, Yishai was accepted to the IAF's Flight Testing Center, where he worked as an engineer. While he couldn't pilot the planes, he was able to fly in them. "In my four years there, I flew in every plane and helicopter in IAF service, from F-15s and F-16s to Apaches and Cobras," he said. "This at least partially fulfilled my dream." In 2005, in the middle of his career, he decided to undergo laser eye surgery, without thinking about the possibility of becoming a pilot. At the time, the IAF didn't accept anyone who had undergone the surgery into the pilot's course. It was Yishai's luck that at the same time, the US Navy started accepting as pilots soldiers who had had laser surgery. After consulting with a pilot friend, Yishai decided to apply for the pilot's course. After 18 months of rejections and deliberations - which reached the commander of the IAF and the IDF's chief medical officer - Yishai finally received the green light to join the course. The lesson, he said, is that people should never give up or take no for an answer. "There is no such thing that you can't do something in life," he said. "If you are determined, you can do anything."