Masters of the Sky: Five Israel Air Force Firsts

Since its establishment in 1948 as a small collection of outdated airplanes, the Israel Air Force (IAF) has grown into one of the strongest air forces in the world. Throughout its history, IAF pilots have been achieving results that are second to none. Here are five Israel Air Force firsts:

1) First Successful F-16 Strike

The F-16 registered its first air-to-air combat success in 1981, courtesy of the Israel Air Force (IAF). The strike took place over the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon against a Soviet-made MiG-8. While the F-16 had already been used by foreign air forces since 1976, none had shot down enemy aircraft.

Israeli Upgraded F-16I

The IAF registered the first-ever downing of a plane by an F-16 in 1981.

2) First Successful Mirage Strike

In 1966, the IAF was the first air force in the world to use the French-made Mirage fighter jet to shoot down an enemy aircraft. The IAF shot down MiGs from Syria that were flying on the Israeli side of the border.

Israeli Mirage at an IAF base.

The IAF registered the Mirage’s first kill when it shot down a MiG-21 in air-to-air combat in 1966.

3) First Successful Vautour Strike

On June 6, 1967, during the Six-Day War, an IAF Vautour squadron targeted Iraq’s H-3 airfield and attacked the Iraqi Air Force’s Hawker Hunter aircraft in the air. When an IAF Vautour downed an Iraqi plane, it was the Vautour’s first and last successful air-to-air strike in the world.

Israeli Air Force Vautour IIN

During the Six Day War, the Israeli Vautour marks its first successful air strike during the attack on Iraq’s H-3 Airfield.

4) First Successful F-15 Strike

While patrolling the northern border of Israel on June 27, 1979, IAF pilot Moshe Marom-Melnik became the first person to shoot down an opposing plane with the F-15 Eagle — in this case, a Syrian MiG. The IAF continued to triumph in the years ahead, when it became the first air force in the world to shoot down a MiG-25.

The Israeli Upgraded F-15I

The IAF achieved the first successful strike with an F-15 in 1979.

5) First Pilot to Register 17 Kills Against Jet Aircraft

IAF Col. Giora Epstein boasts 17 confirmed kills — the world record for jet aircraft shot down as well as the most aircraft of any type shot down since the Korean War. He is the internationally recognized “Ace of Aces” of modern, supersonic fighter jets. Nicknamed “Hawkeye”, Epstein was allegedly able to spot an aircraft at a distance of 44 km (27 mi) — nearly three times farther than an average pilot.

Israeli Pilot Colonel Giora "Hawkeye" Epstein

Col. Epstein holds the world record for jet aircraft shot down, and the most aircraft of any type shot down since the Korean War.


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