A love story between Paris and Jerusalem

100 years of Aviation in the Holy Land.

[illustrative] Israel drone 311 IAF (photo credit: Courtesy: IAF [illustrative])
[illustrative] Israel drone 311 IAF
(photo credit: Courtesy: IAF [illustrative])
Like most children in the world, I grew up discovering, loving and playing with small airplanes. In that context, it turns out that many aviation experiences and historical facts link Israel and France. Coincidentally, I did the same journey as the French aviator Jules Védrines did 100 years ago, taking off from Nancy in Eastern France on November 20, 1913 flying through the Holy land to reach Egypt. Védrines was the first man to fly to and land in the Holy Land. His journey had many stops such as Prague, Vienna, Belgrade, Istanbul (then Constantinople), and Beirut.
Before the First World War started, while the Holy Land was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Jules landed with his one engine aircraft, a Blériot XI. Jules might have known Saint Exupery, the famous author of The Little Prince, the classic fable that is still thriving in the imagination of many children. Saint Exupery was himself an aviator, but also a poet, who disappeared tragically over the Mediterranean in 1944 and is believed to have died at that time.
Jules did this journey participating in a competition organized by the Paris base 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. A few days later, on December 31, 1913, another competing French pilot, Marc Bonnier (along with his technician Joseph Barnier) reached the Holy Land, this time with a Nieuport type aircraft and landed near Jerusalem. On December 29, 1913, Védrines reached Heliopolis in Cairo after an adventure of 5600 kilometers.
My passion for airplanes blazed the way for me to join the Israeli Air Force in 1997, three years after I made aliya. But the Air Force I came to know had nothing to do with the then-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 sources) of different 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. Israel fell in love with French airplanes, but like many love stories, the passion did not last.
Sixty-five years after the birth of the State of Israel, the Israeli Air Force is known to be one of the most modern in the world. In addition, Israel has its own aerospace industry, developing and producing its own satellites, launch vehicles, drones, aircraft and missiles where it is a world leader in many fields.
Today, the Israel Air Force has acquired new advanced airplanes like the Hercules C-130J and is expecting to start taking delivery in 2016 at the earliest of the first of 20 F-35, advanced fighter aircraft that combines stealth with advanced mission systems. The journey is not stopping there since one argues the F-35 will be the last manned fighter aircraft. Many believe that in the near future UAVs will be able to conduct most of the 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 fly and journey into outer space.Will this 100-year-old human adventure end and leave the Air Theater “human-free”, or will pilots continue to be an integral part in the leading of air missions in the skies?Decades ago, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, said at a ceremony at the Tel Nof Air Base that pilots give the possibility for the man to triumph over nature. We understand the point that the man behind the machine was the key to successes and victories. I do hope humans will continue to be relevant in the age of the machines.
Maj. (Res.) Stephane Cohen is 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.