The Boeing 707 airplanes are among the oldest airplanes in the IAF, and an important strategic asset. As a result, the planes require frequent and thorough maintenance. How is it done?
An IAF Boeing 707 airplane of the "Desert Giants" squadron was sent for a comprehensive maintenance in the United States. The maintenance treatment, which will last several months, is a part of a series of inspections the old planes have to go through. The Boeing 707's are used to refuel the combat formation jets, making their continuous qualification highly important for the IAF.
A highly rigorous maintenance regime is imposed: The planes undergo many inspections and tests every operational year, and this specific treatment, in which it will be disassembled, examined, and reassembled, is conducted once every two years for every plane in the line. "The maintenance of these planes is very challenging", emphasizes Major Yaniv Elkalai, Head of Heavy Transport Department in the Materiel Directorate.
Oldest plane: 57 years old
The Boeing 707 planes go through so many treatments and tests due to the fact that they are very old, according to both Israeli and international standards. The first planes were developed in the 1950s and entered IAF service in 1973. The oldest, currently active airplane in the line was manufactured in 1958.
Most of the maintenance work is performed by the people of IAI (Israel Aerospace industries), but the heavy transport planes are sometimes sent for additional inspections outside Israel. Maintaining the Boeing 707 is not an easy task. "The complexity is great", reveals Major Doron Avramovich, Foreign Inspections Officer for the Boeing 707 and Hercules planes. "The Boeing 707's, unlike fighter jets, are civil planes which were bought from civil aviation companies and are then converted into military planes. That is why each and every plane is unique, as it is an individual platform requiring specialized treatment".
While many foreign forces use improved models, the IAF is one of the only forces that still operates the Boeing 707. "The American Air Force, for example, is now replacing its Boeing 707s with Boeing 767s", says Major Nir, Deputy Commander of the "Desert Giants" squadron. The fact that other air forces are starting to use different airplanes makes it harder to find spare parts, as well as partners, with which to share knowledge about the plane.
Despite the challenges, the IAF Boeing 707 consistently meets the force's high standards and performs it tasks as needed. "The Boeing 707 formation is the strategic formation of the IAF. Without refueling planes, other planes cannot reach distant places and that is why it is essential to keep the plane active and qualified, even when new planes like the F-35 arrives", summarizes Major Nir.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: It seems strange that the Israeli Air Force would send such a heavily-modified Boeing 707 to the US for maintenance.
The IAF has considerable engineering know-how and can call on state-owned Israel Aerospace Industry, one of whose lines of business is Boeing conversions, upgrades and modernization.
Why it instead prefers to have the work done in the US is unclear – unless, of course, it will be paid by the US government as part of its financial support to Israel’s military.