George Katz – a Mahal pilot who helped El Al take off

Appreciation: We were more like brothers than friends. I shall miss him and his great sense of humor.

Mahal 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mahal 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On Thursday, December 1, my dear friend Gad Katz (we always knew him as George), passed away at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba after a short but severe illness at the age of 84. He was laid to rest at the Herzliya Cemetery later in the day, next to his late wife and son.
We met at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where we played for the under-19 rugby team.
In 1948, we joined the League for Haganah in South Africa and trained as Mahal (volunteers from abroad) pilots for the Israel Air Force. In 1953, we joined El Al Israel Airlines, but continued to serve in the IAF reserves until 1985, participating in the country’s subsequent wars as active operational pilots up to and including the First Lebanon War.
In 1955, George and I were stationed in London, flying the New York route for El Al.
Our firstborns were born there. Returning to Israel in 1957, we both checked out as captains.
In 1978, after having flown the Curtiss Commando C-46, the Lockheed Constellation, Bristol Brittania and flying and instructing on the Boeing 707, George and I were assigned to determine the configuration for El Al’s future Boeing 747.
We spent much time at Boeing’s 747 plant near Seattle, Washington, accepted and delivered El Al’s first few 747s, instructed crews and introduced the aircraft into service on El Al routes.
George went on to become manager of flight operations. I became 747 fleet manager, and we inaugurated direct flights to New York, at the time the longest commercial flight worldwide.

In 1987, at the age of 60, we both retired from El Al (60 was mandatory retiring age for pilots on international routes at that time), but continued to fly for Arkia on inland routes.
After a few months, we both decided it was enough and retired to our homes, which were close to each other. Our families have maintained close contact all these years. A week ago, my wife and I took George out for lunch.
It was a struggle for him; he said he found the strain overbearing.
We were more like brothers than friends. I shall miss him and his great sense of humor.
The writer was one of El Al’s pioneer pilots. His son Eytan is a 747 captain and instructor with El Al. His son Oren is a captain with Talon Air in New York and hopes to join El Al when it has an intake of pilots.