Dozens of battles, hundreds of aircrews and thousands of flight hours: 48 years after the first A-4 Skyhawks (“Ayit” Hebrew for Eagle) entered IAF service, today, the force says goodbye to the heritage jet fighter which leaves behind it operational achievements, much knowledge and countless memories.
The pouring rain and early morning hour didn’t stop the crowd from assembling around the line from which the jets took off for the last time. It seemed that all of the attendants were exited and prepared for an honorary aerial demonstration which passed over all IAF Airbases and accompanied the slowly rising sun. But the weather wasn’t the only thing to change faces: routinely, flight school cadets fly the Skyhawks, but this time in the cockpits sat the Senior Commanders of the force, led by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, the IAF Commander. “The ‘Skyhawk’ has landed for the last time. The ‘Skyhawk’ joins the ‘Piper’ and the ‘Dacota’, the service record-holders in the IAF. Completing such a long service requires experts with abilities from the world of alchemy. The servicemen from the Technical Division from all ranks and the Material Directorate Headquarters, are at the end of an era which is an example for professionalism, determination and devotion, a source of might for the entire Air Force”, said the IAF Commander in the closing ceremony.
The Skyhawk era in Israel was opened on December 29, 1967 when the first four Skyhawks were unloaded from a ship which arrived at the Haifa Port and absorbed into the “Valley” and the “Flying Tiger” Squadrons, established especially for the arrival of the new aircraft.
The Skyhawk jets led the American Aircraft era in the IAF and it was one of the IAF’s veteran and most reliable aircraft and leaves behind it a legacy of successful operations, as it took part in every Israeli campaign ever since it entered service and even served as the IAF’s primary strike jet in the “War of Attrition”.
“Along the way we lost many good people on the ground and in the air”, said the IAF Commander, “We will never forget them. We will continue walking in their light, hand in hand with their families”.
During the “Yom Kippur” War, the Skyhawk Squadron aircrews took off to about 1000 operational sorties in the southern front. About half of the aircraft were hit during combat and six aircrew members ejected from their aircraft in enemy territory. Seven were killed.
Despite the loss, the squadron members continued to take off time and time again. Alongside the aircrews, the technical teams labored nonstop. “Without each and every technician no pilot would fly”, said Col. (Res.) Uri Shahar, the squadron commander in the war. “The squadron members knew that the Israeli people were behind them and that somebody needed to take care of them”.
Besides its operational activity, in the early nineties the “Flying Tiger” Squadron which operates the Skyhawk jets was appended to Flight School. The aircraft served as the mentor for the forces next combat pilots, before the entrance of the “Lavi” (M-346) into service, it qualified many generations of IAF Combat Pilots and WSO’s.
“With the shutdown of the ‘Skyhawk’ engines, the song of the ‘Ayit’ will continue in the force”, added the IAF Commander. “Amongst the combatants that fought from the tiny cockpit and those that took their first steps in the world of combat flight and today fly the peak of aerial technology. The little jet belongs to the IAF’s history and we carry on stronger than ever”.