The Frontal Landing Unit is the IAF unit responsible for landing the air force's heavy transport aircraft outside of its airbases. Its main mission is defined as finding, authorizing and operating frontal runways – ad hoc landing strips established on soil and asphalt. It may be a small unit but it has a unique role in Israel's security forces.
The Frontal Landing Unit locates, marks and operates frontal runways for "Karnaf" (Hercules C-130H) and "Shimshon" (Super Hercules C-130J) transport aircraft, among others. As part of the unit's exercises, its combatants deploy to open areas and detect suitable surfaces for landing based on earlier findings. The unit also performs routine exercises alongside IAF squadrons in previously qualified frontal runways in order to maintain their fitness.
In 1947, several units worked in each distinct IAF base with the role of enabling the landing of aircraft from outside the airbases. In 1973, the extensions were concentrated into Lod AFB and the Frontal Landing Unit was established. When Lod was relocated to Nevatim AFB ten years ago, the unit was transferred to the airbase as well, which remains its current base of operations. "The unit's role is to allow the IAF's tactical transport division to land anywhere, anytime", elaborated Lt. D', an instructions and operations officer at the unit. "The unit continues to grow stronger and stronger".
The unit's combatants undergo basic training at the Nahal Brigade's training base alongside future "Shaldag" Unit and SAR (Search-and-rescue) Unit 669 combatants. At the end of their basic training, the combatants arrive at the unit and undergo an additional month of basic training which is now more complex - both physically and mentally. At the end of this stage, the combatants embark on a journey at the end of which they begin their training as frontal transport operators.
"The frontal transport operator is the unit's main position", elaborated Lt. D'. "The training period is three months long, at the end of which the unit's commanding crew decide the position of each combatant according to their skills and capabilities: soil inspector, air traffic controller, military paramedic or driver".
"The combatants undergo soil inspector training in the unit itself", said Lt. D'. "It's a unique position and an incredibly challenging course, after which the combatants still aren't qualified for marking complex runways - they are then required to undergo additional qualification tests". Air traffic controllers undergo their course at Uvda AFB, after which they begin their practical training in frontal runways.
The unit's drivers undergo qualification with the unit's off-road vehicles, among others. Lt. D' said: "The drivers gain experience quickly, especially seeing as they are constantly required to drive in the field". Unlike many positions in the unit which require the combatants to undergo supplementary courses, its military paramedics arrive at the unit after undergoing a ground forces military paramedic course.
The Peak Moment
After all combatants complete their qualifications and courses successfully, they return to the unit and undergo additional instructions. At this point, the combatants learn to work together as a team. After concluding the entirety of their required training across a wide range of landing strips, the combatants reach the final stage – the concluding exercise.
The training period's concluding week is a peak moment for the crew members, in which they take their abilities to the edge and handle a large amount of challenging missions and unplanned scenarios. Dozens of landings are performed in cooperation with the IAF's heavy transport squadrons during the training period.
Responsibility on Their Shoulders
Several weeks ago, a Frontal Landing Unit qualification course came to an end after nine complex months. The concluding exercise was led by Lt. D': "The concluding exercise is an example of all the combatants' capabilities as a team. We try to adjust the exercise according to the current operational reality, seeing as the situation in the Middle East is very dynamic. This year's exercise lasted just less than a week. The combatants were scrambled near the end of their vacation under the pretense of an emergency.
The exercise was held in complete uncertainty, with the combatants prepared to reach any point in Israel and perform any mission. An operational mission can last anywhere between several hours and whole days".
"In the current course we put an emphasis on physicality and combat, which meant that the combatants were required to be strong both mentally and physically", elaborated Lt. G', a crew commander at the current course. "We worked on rigorous teamwork throughout the course and made sure that the combatants performed all their missions together. Every week, we held a crew discussion where the combatants talked about points for improvement regarding their conduct, seeing as they don't leave each other's side for ten whole months".
Lt. G' understands the importance of the position and the responsibility that lies in the hands of every Frontal Landing Unit combatant. "They're young people, just 18 years old, and from now on they have a great responsibility on their shoulders. An aircraft lands in an area that they themselves detected, tested and marked. Therefore, it was important they realize their duty".
At the end of the exercise, the graduates were awarded with the unit's new combatant badge – they were the first ones to graduate with this badge. "You can see the process they went through from the beginning of their training", concluded Lt. G'. "I'm very proud of them".