Crashed Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16I Returns to Skies
Seven years have gone by since the Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16 041 crashed. This week, following an extensive rehabilitation process, it finally got the chance to start its engines, waiting at the end of the strip for its chance to fly. This time, its cockpit held a particularly emotional pilot and navigator: The two air crew members who ditched the plane – one of the most traumatic experiences a pilot can have – returned to take off in it again.
"It will do it properly and successfully," everyone agreed. After all, everyone here had helped in the resurrection of the historic plane. "The people of the Aerial Maintenance Unit have accomplished something only a few in the world could," said Col. Oded, commander of the Unit. "Even though we have lots of experience with rebuilding 'injured' aircrafts, we've never dealt with this sort of tragic case before."
Pictures from 2005 speak for themselves. Seconds before touching ground, the 041's right wheel detached and the crew was forced to abandon the aircraft as it trembled along the landing strip.
"When it arrived, we couldn't believe it was even fixable. The front was completely shattered, its tail was broken, the wings were curved, and the engine was filled with mud," said Warrant Officer Eldad, head of the rehabilitation project. Putting everything aside, members of the aerial maintenance unit began assembling the damaged plane.
"When representatives of the manufacturing company came to Israel, they didn't have a bit of hope; no one believed we could fix it," said Col. Ran, head of the Airplane Department in the Equipment Formation. "The Americans thought that it was a waste of time to worry about planes in that condition, but our perspective is that every plane counts. We had to do everything in order to fix it."
2012: THE PILOT AND NAVIGATOR WHO ABANDONED THE AIRCRAFT TAKE OFF AGAIN
Despite the difficulties, the people of the Aerial Maintenance Unit didn’t give up. After years of treatment and replacing hundreds of components, the F-16i 041 finally took off toward home, back to the Valley Squadron.
"I'm standing here by the plane, and realizing how many people were affected by this crash," smiled Maj. (res.) Ofer, the pilot who ejected from the plane before the crash. "It's hard to believe that everything went back to the way it was."
Ofer walked toward the plane he had hesitantly ditched, and carefully climbed into the cockpit. "I'm excited, but not nervous. In the years that passed, I realized how much my life is dependent on the people around me, how the engineer who examined the chair and the technicians who tested the systems had saved my life. Had even one component not worked, I wouldn’t be here," he explained.
The navigator who had flown with Maj. (res.) Ofer also climbed into the plane proudly. A final goodbye to the families, and they were off – after seven years, the F-16i 041's first takeoff.
Source: By Tal Michael, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) - 03 July 2012
Photo: The Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16I Fighter Aircraft climbs on a training mission. (Photo by IAF)