Saturday, July 07, 2007

Israel Air Force Museum

On Friday, July 6, 2007, we went with our friend Haim Ron who lives about 20 minutes north northwest of Beersheva on Kibbutz Shuval to the Israeli Air Force Museum.

This Museum opened to the public in June 1991. It is adjacent to the Hatzerim Air Force Base, just outside Beer Sheva. It is open Sunday through Thursday from 8 am to 5 pm and on Friday and holiday eves until 1 p.m. We got there about 10 a.m. on Friday and saw a lot in the two + hours we were there. Admission was 28 shekels (about $7) for adults and 21 shekels for seniors. Haim had not been there for several years and saw new additions that had not been on view for his previous visit.

Planes on exhibit range from a single-engine plane used in the 40s to go between settlements and some wooden-canvass planes to other airplanes bought chronologically from the Czech, Great Britain, France, Italy, planes they built on their own based on French design, and finally the US (in the 70s and later). (The US would not sell to them until the later date.) There are scores of different planes on exhibit including Spitfire, Mustang, Mezek (Czech version of Messerschmidt Bf 109), Avenger, Gloster Meteor, Ouragan, Mystere, Super Mystere B-2, Mirage, Kfir, Nesher, Vautour, Phantom, Skyhawk, Lavi and many others. The helicopter collection includes Huey Cobra, Gazelle, Defender, Super Frelon, etc. Captured enemy planes include the MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-21, MiG-23, Vampire, Hunter. Aircraft and anti-aircraft weapons, missiles and radar systems are also exhibited in the museum. I know nothing about these planes but both Haim and Howard are military history buffs, so they shared a common language. Anything there was supposed to be out of commission. Enjoy the pictures below and our short commentary!

In an open shed under some shelter, we saw some objects often used in parades nowadays. They included a wooden canvass plane used in the 40s.

There was also a one-engine tiny plane brought to Israel in 1946 to transport weapons to the Jewish settlements before and during the Independence War and also to do reconnaissance afterwards. IT was called the Auster J/1 Autocrat or "Primus" when it arrived here. It was originally used by "Sherut Avir" or Air Service, the name used before the creation of the State of Israel.

During that war, Israel bought some German Messerschmidts from Czechoslovakia. Arms dealing had always been a big business in Czechoslovakia. Israel just had gotten them assembled when the last cease fire took hold. These planes were not great, according to Haim.

We also saw Israel's first simulator in that covered area and some guns used in the War of Independence.

This is a medium-sized anti-aircraft gun, manufactured in Belgium in 1914. It was used in the 1948 war, many by women who "manned" such guns.

Manufactured in 1944 in Czechoslovakia, this anti-aircraft gun was used by a woman in July 1948 at Kibbutz Ruchama to shoot down an Egyptian Spitfire.

During the 40s, the Jews of Palestine had to collect and hide guns because anything that the British found, they confiscated, as they did not allow the Jews to own them. In around 2005, a cache was found underground at Kibbutz Givat Brenner. The picture below shows the rusted barrels in which they had been stored and the next picture shows the guns.

One of the earlier planes that Israel bought was the Mustang. It was made in the US and was World War II surplus. Israel did not buy them directly from the US. The one we saw was supposed to be able to cut phone wires, but the hook on the back didn't work very well, so often the pilots had to use their propellers to cut them. That had to have been super-risky!

You can see the symbol on the side of the plane (close up)that shows it was used for snipping wires. This surplus WWII plane were the fastest propeller planes built, but they were soon replaced by jets in the early 50s. (Howard says that jets came out during the end of WWII and Germans actually used them to shoot down bombers at the end of the war.)
Israel bought its first jets in 1953 from Great Britain, the Meteors. The Royal Air Force used these airplanes quite successful until the mid 1970s.
Meteors in a row
One Meteor closer up

The IAF bought the Ouragan from France in 1955 and continued to by French jets for many years. This single seat jet bomber had a range of about 550 miles and could go about 560 mph, and was used until early 1973.

The next French jet purchased after the Ouragan was the Mystere. The Mystere was called Sambad in Israel and was in service from 1958 to 1975. It was the first to break the sound barrier. These planes took over more of a support role after the Mirages were introduced in 1963. From 1968 on the Super Mysteres were given American engines and then called Sa'ar and sank 2 ships in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

The next jet purchased was the Mirage. This plane was in use from 1962 to 1982 and was the first Israeli plane to go twice the speed of sound.

After taken out of service, all of the Mirages were sold to Argentina. The Mirage above was quite special since it shot down a total of 13 enemy aircraft during its service in the IAF. Some Israelis felt that this plane should be brought back to Israel, and a private individual raised the funds to bring it back and put it on display.

After de Gaulle came to power, he wanted better relations with the Arab countries, so he did not allow Israel to purchase any more planes from France. An engineer in Switzerland managed to steal the plans of the Mirage, and the Israelis then built the Kfir, which was a modified version of the Mirage with a more powerful American engine. The engine had to take in more air since it was bigger, so in front of the tail on top, the Kfir has an extra air scoop. The designers also put Cannard wings (little wings above the main wings) on it that made the Kfir much more maneuverable.

Kfir with bombs along side

Note the extra wing and air vent on top

Israel designed their next generation fighter, called the Lavi, to replace the Kifr but it was so similar to the US F-16 that they bought the F-16 instead of producing their own plane.

Now the IAF planes are the F-15 and F-16; the F-15 is a big fighter bomber like the Kfir and the F-16 is a smaller fighter.

The Tzukit has been used as a trainer plane since the mid 1980s. It was one of 5 planes visitors can climb on. Here is a picture of us in it plus some the control panel (in English) and switches on the side (in Hebrew).

It was fascinating to hear about the history of the development of the Israeli Air Force. If you want to check out the website, just go to:

If you are not tired of seeing pictures now, here are some other planes and other objects of interest that we saw that the museum:

On the left is the normal flying suit used by pilots. On the right is one costing $250,000 for use when pilots fly above 35,000 feet.

This is one of the Russian-made MIGS captured by Israel and also parts of one shot down. At least one plane landed here by mistake from Syria and at least one more landed when a pilot defected from Iraq. Howard is standing next to small drones which were used by Israel for reconnaissance. Israel developed these drones and sold them to the US.
Nope--not a plane. This is the only automobile ever developed in Israel. The factory was in Natzrat in the 1960s. The kibbutz I lived on in the early 1970s actually had one of these Susita cars.
There were also a number of helicopters and missile systems on display, so you will just have to go to the museum some day to see them!

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