Written by Oleg Granovsky; Originally appeared on oleggranovsky.livejournal.com; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The first F-35I “Adir” arrived in Israel on December 12, 2016, and today the Air Force has 14 such planes. They are all in service with the 140th Nesher Ha-Zahav (Golden Eagle) Squadron. All in all, Israel has ordered 50 F-35I and the arrival of all of them should be completed by 2024.
Fifty fighters are two squadrons by Israeli Air Force standards. The second squadron of these planes is to be the 116th “Maginai Ha-Darom” (Defenders of the South), formerly known as “Ha-Kanaf Ha Meufefet” (Flying Wing). Its launch is planned in about a year, in 2020. And, a squadron development team (Tsevet Haakama) headed by Lieutenant Colonel N. Major Rodrigo Rosteski, head of the technical department of the squadron (Ktsin Ha-Tehne), has already been appointed.
At the beginning of the month (i.e. April 2019), the first squadron building was inaugurated on the base. The building is new and was laid down a little less than a year ago. The squadron’s technical department (Gaf Ha-Tekhni) will be located here, while the entire squadron’s construction team is working in the building. Brigadier General Tomer Bar, Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Brigadier General Eyal Greenboim, Commander of Nevatim Base attended the ceremony. A new symbol of the squadron was shown and presented to the team personnel at the ceremony.
The symbol of the squadron is similar to the old symbol of the 116th Squadron, but there are also changes:
- change of colour (by analogy with changes in the symbol of the 140th Squadron), symbolises a revolution in the squadron’s tasks;
- the wing consists of 5 segments, “5th generation” fighters;
- eight grey stripes represent eight types of weapons;
- the grey stripes and dots form the phrase “116th Squadron” in Morse code.
The 116th Squadron was created in 1956 on the basis of Acron (Tel-Nof) as a fighters squadron (in essence, attack aircraft) P-51D “Mustang”. At that time, a flight school was stationed at the base and 14 instructors from that school were assigned to the squadron (Hatsavat Khirum), and the school commander was also the squadron commander. Only one pilot was a full-time squadron pilot. In early 1957, the squadron received the Mustangs and reservists from the 105th Squadron, and in 1959, the T-6 Texan (“Harvard”) planes from the 140th Squadron, used as training and attack aircraft. In 1959-1961, the squadron was the only air force squadron of combat aircraft operating piston planes. In 1960, “Harvard” and in January 15, 1961 “Mustang” were removed from service and closed down by the squadron.
Already in October 1961 the squadron was reopened at the Khazor base, receiving the “Mystère-4” and pilots from the 101st Squadron as part of its rearmament to the “Mirage-3”. Two weeks later, the squadron was redeployed to Tel-Nof. In 1968, the squadron was redeployed to Tel-Nof. The 116th was reinforced by both Mystère-4 and pilots from the 109th Squadron, as part of the transition to Skyhawk.
In 1971, the 116th Squadron was re-equipped with the Skyhawk A-4E model. The first planes of this type arrived in Israel on February 18, 1971, on March 17, 1971 the Komezk made the first flight on the A-4E and on March 18, 1971 the last flight of the “Mystère-4” squadron took place. During the 1973 war, the squadron received the Skyhawks and pilots from the 140th Squadron, which was at the initial stage of formation and it was decided to interrupt the process during the war.
After the war (possibly in 1975) the squadron received the Skyhawks, the most modern model used in Israel, the A-4N. In October 1983, the 116th Squadron was relocated to Nevatem, becoming the first squadron of this new base at that time. And in 1985 it became a squadron of operational training (KAAM – “Course ha-Imun ha-Muvtsai”) for combat aircraft pilots.
In 2002, the operational service of the Skyhawk in the squadron was stopped, this event was marked by a group flight of 6 quads of A-4s at a low altitude above all air force bases (October 21, 2002). And at the end of the year after the completion of the ordinary KAAM course, almost 32 years of “Skyhawk’s” service in the squadron, including 19 years in Nevatem, were completed. The planes flew up into the air for the last time and relocated to Hatzerim, where they were partially included in the 102nd Flying Tiger Squadron (Ha-Na’amer H’M’ufaf), the Air Force’s last squadron of Skyhawks (the squadron operated them until 2015, when the latter were taken out of service, replacing the M-346 Master and Lavie in the Israeli Air Force).
In 2003 (March 31, 2003) the 116hth Squadron received the F-16A/B (“Nets”), previously used in the 253rd Squadron at Ramon as part of its transition to the F-16I (“Sufa”). At the same time, the name of the squadron was changed from “Ha-Kanaf Ha-Meufefet” to “Maginay Ha-Darom”. The first combat flight of the squadron on Nets took place on May 28, 2003. In August 2013, the 116th received Nets, pilots and the KAAMAM (“Kurse Ha-Imun Ha-Mivtsai Ha-Mitchaem”) from the 140th Squadron (the squadron was closed as part of budget cuts, but, as mentioned above, was reopened as the first F-35 squadron in 2016). In the summer of 2015, the squadron was closed, and this was also the end of Nets’ operational use in the Air Force (officially, Nets was taken out of service on December 26, 2016, the last one being operated by the 115th Squadron, the Red Squadron of the Air Force).
The squadron was actively involved in wars and operations:
- 1956 – 66 sorties on “Mustangs”, mostly assault flights; 6 planes were shot down, 1 pilot was killed, 1 was captured;
- 1967 – 269 flights on “Mystère-4”, 5 planes were shot down, 2 pilots were killed, 1 was captured;
- 1967-1970 – more than 1,000 flights on “Mystère-4”, 3 aircraft shot down, 1 pilot killed;
- 1973 – 823 flights on A-4E, 5 planes were shot down, 2 pilots were killed (including squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Ehud Shelakh), 2 were captured;
- 1982 – A-4N (during the “Din ve Heshbon” (Operation Law and Order) of 1993 and “Envay Zaam” in 1996);
- 2006 – on F-16A/B (also during the last decade’s operations in Gaza).
As we can see, throughout its history, the 116th Squadron has used the oldest or one of the oldest air force combat aircraft, and its tasks have been assault, fighter-bomber and training. With the entry into service of “Adir” the squadron will move into the ranks of advanced air force squadrons.
Some interesting facts from the history of the squadron:
- The squadron has one victory in air combat. June 5, 1967, on the first day of the Six Day War, around 13:00, the 4th Mystère-4 Squadron attacked the Jordanian Air Force’s Mafrak Base. During the air battle above the base, an aircraft with B/N 52, piloted by Captain Mario Shaked shot down a “Hunter”. In the same squadron, another Jordanian Hunter, piloted by Pakistani instructor pilot Saiful Azam, shot down a Mystère-4 of the same tier, piloted by Lieutenant Hanania Bula. Hanania tried to reach Israeli territory, was forced to eject and was killed on the ground by Jordanian peasants.
- During “Operation Kadesh” in 1956, the “Mustangs” of the squadron carried out the very first war operation: at about 16:00 on October 29, 1956, the planes (two pairs of P-51D) cut the telephone wires used to connect the Egyptian army in Sinai with the headquarters in Cairo at several points.
- New “Adir” Squadron, Israeli Air Force, April 10, 2019
- Israel Air Force Opens Second F-35 Squadron, Jpost, 25.04.19.
- Israeli Air Force has launched the squadron “Defenders of the Negev”, Mignews, 25.04.19. [Site in Russian only]
- The Second Mighty squadron is Squadron 116 defenders of the South. israeldefense, 30.04.19. [Site in Hebrew only]
- The 116th Squadron, Wikipedia page in Hebrew.
- Squadrons, Israeli Air Force.