A total of 335,000 flight hours spread over 474,000 sorties. Yes, the numbers are impressive for the F-16A and B version in Israel. However, these early built F-16s finally left Israeli Air Force service on Monday 26 december 2016, more than 36 years after delivery of the first jets in 1980. Their final landing was at Ouvda airbase in the southern part of Israel.
These ‘original’ F-16s were named Netz in Hebrew and made famous by their role in taking out the Osiraq nuclear reactor in Iraq on 7 June 1981, only a year or so after delivery of the first jets to Israel. By that time, an Israeli Air Force F-16 was already responsible for the very first air-to-air kill by an F-16.
Over the years, many dozens of F-16 Netz aircraft were extensively used by the Israelis and responsible for many more air-to-air victories. Nevertheless, more capable F-16C/D Barak and F-16I Sufa jets began taking over their role. The Netz was then used as a trainer aircraft, a role that also has some to end with the delivery of thirty M-346 Lavi trainer jets.
The last of these early model F-16s were flown by 115 ‘Flying Dragon squadron at Ouvda, who also used the Netz in an agressor role. Over the years, Israel already retired a substantial number of these jets.
According to Haaretz newspaper, 40 F-16s are now offered for sale. In the past, Israel already sold off substantial numbers of surplus A-4 Skyhawks. Most found a second life by being used for air combat training by civilian companies such as Draken International and Discovery Air Defence Services.
The Israeli Air Force now has its full complement of 30 Leonardo Finmeccanica M-346 Lavi advanced jet trainers operational. The final one has been commissioned this week.
With the new jets, the skies of Israel will be free of the Skyhawk – the legendary A-4 that was the Lavi’s predecessor after having been commissioned in the 1960s.
The commissioning of the full 30 jets – known in Italy as the Master – went with some bad mouthing on the biggest competitor: the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50 Golden Eagle. “At the end of the day, the Italian plane was better than the Korean one. We choose wisely for the Lavi,” Israel’s head of procurement of the Ministry of Defence – Shmuel Tzuker, said to The Times of Israel.
USA’s T-X program
An interesting remark, since a derivative of the T-50 is also in the running to replace the US Air Force’s Northrop T-38 Talon advanced jet fighters. This Lockheed Martin/KIA T-50A is also facing the heat of the M-346, enroled in the USA’s T-X program as the Raytheon/Leonardo Finmeccanica T-100. According to Israel the M-346 is better in quality of training, safety, maintenance, specs and costs of operation.
So far, 68 M-346 Lead-In Fighter Trainer versions have been ordered by the air forces of Italy (18), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8). But there are new markets at the horizon.
A noticeable development which may also interest countries like Israel and Poland is the recently presented armed version of the Italian advanced trainer. At the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow Leonardo Finmeccanica showed of its M-346FT (Fighter Trainer) with light multi-role capabilities including laser guided bombs and air-to-air missiles. Airheadsfly.com already went inside deep at Lecce Airbase, aka the Master’s nest.
The very first F-35 for Israel was unveiled on Wednesday 22 June during a roll out ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility. The aircraft is the first of 33 so far ordered by Israel, with more certainly on the way. The Israeli version of the F-35 is designated F-35I and named ‘Adir’ – Hebrew for mighty one.
The F-35I will be a special breed of the Lockheed Martin F-35A, with Israeli-developed and installed mission equipment. Israel previously choose a similar path with the F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) and F-16I Sufa (Storm). Contrary to the spectacular desert camouflage paint job on those jets, the first F-35I wore a standard grey camouflage scheme upon roll out in Fort Worth
The first Adirs should arrive in country in December for customization by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Next, the jets will be send to Nevatim airbase in the Negev desert.
The newly delivered Leonardo Finmeccanica M-346 Master jet trainer should prepare new Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots for the F-35I. The last of 30 of those was delivered earlier in June.
Israel and Lockheed Martin this week celebrated the start of final assembly of the first F-35A Adir ( “mighty one” in Hebrew) for Israel in Forth Worth, Texas. The aircraft, designated as F-35A aircraft AS-1, officially began its mate process, where four major components of the fighter aircraft are joined together in the Electronic Mate and Assembly Station to form the aircraft’s structure.
The first Israeli F-35A will continue its assembly in Fort Worth and is expected to roll out of the factory in June and be delivered to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) later this year.
In 2010, Israel became the first country to order the F-35 through the US Foreign Militrary Sales (FMS) program. The country signed contracts for 33 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft.
Israel’s contribution to the F-35 program includes Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI F-35A wing production, Elbit Systems work on the Generation III helmet-mounted display system worn by all F-35 pilots fleet-wide and Elbit Systems-Cyclone F-35 center fuselage composite components production.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) on Sunday 13 December said good bye to the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk after 48 years of service. A formation flight flew over all IAF bases on Sunday morning. The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master takes over the A-4’s training duties.
The Skyhawks flew for the final time from Hatzerim airbase, witnessed by many active and former IAF-personnel. Virtually every pilot in the IAF flew the A-4 at one time or another, as the type was reponsible for pilot training over the last decades. It was applauded for its reliability during the farewell ceremony.
The first Skyhawk – called Ayit ( Eagle) in Hebrew – arrived in Israel on 29 December 1967 when the first four were unloaded from a ship in Haifa harbour. The type saw combat during various conflicts between Israel and its neighbouring states from 1967 until 1970. During the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Skyhawks flew 1,000 operational sorties.
In the nineties, 102 The Flying Tigers squadron, a long time Skyhawk user, was transformed into a flight school for future pilots and weapons operators. A large number of Skyhawks was sold to new users, among them various companies providing training assets to Western air forces.