After six decades of aerial operation – four of them spent among the ranks of the IAF – the air force's oldest aircraft is being decommissioned. The "Re'em" (Boeing 707)'s final flight over Israel's skies saw the aircraft refuel two "Adir" (F-35I) fighter jets from the 140th Squadron
Nevatim AFB's "Re'em" (Boeing 707) are among the air force's most experienced aircraft, and there are copious stories behind the many flight hours they have clocked. One of these aircraft is extraordinary – after being in service for 60 years, it is the oldest aircraft in service in the IAF.
The 120th ("Desert Giants") Squadron, which operates the "Re'em" aircraft, performs humanitarian and cargo transport missions all around the world. The "Re'em" is a civil transport aircraft converted into a refueling tanker. The aircraft in question – tail number 140 – was integrated in 1979, and was the first "Re'em" to undergo tanker conversion. Last Monday the aircraft took off for the last time, after 62,000 flight hours, 20,000 sorties, 15,000 refuelings and over 5 million pounds of fuel transferred. This marked the aircraft's final flight before its decommission.
"The fact that we are capable of aerial refueling makes us a strong power in the Middle East", said Brig. Gen. Eyal Grinboim, Commander of Nevatim AFB, during the ceremony held last week. "We can take our fighter jets and transport aircraft and fly them anywhere in the world. We prove this every day, year by year".
2,300 Kilometers Away from Home
One of the operations the aircraft participated in was 1985 Operation "Wooden Leg". During the operation, the IAF bombed the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) headquarters in Tunisia, considered the farthest bombing operation performed by the air force. "Re'em" aircraft participated in aerial refueling during this mission, which was considered the farthest strike-oriented aerial refueling sortie at the time.
"We refueled the fighter jets several times", recalled Col. (Res') Y', the operation's lead navigator. "One of the refueling aircraft waited for the fighter jets after the sortie in order to refuel them once more. We then flew back to Israel, refueled, and took off again in to act as backup in case one of the fighter jets encountered a malfunction".
However, an error occurred in the aircraft's navigation systems during the flight and Col. (Res') Y' had to handle the event. "I had to navigate using outdated modes of operation, utilized dozens of years earlier. Nevertheless, I was trained to be a navigator exactly for situations of this sort, and my training taught me how to perform my job even when my instruments failed. This flight was of national importance".
140 on Both Sides of History
The "Re'em" aircraft with the tail number 140 performed its last flight with two "Adir" (F-35I) fighter jets from the 140th ("Golden Eagle") Squadron. "There's something symbolic about this flight", said Lt. Col. T', the squadron's commander. "Its last flight saw the force's most experienced aircraft refuel the force's newest aircraft".
Participating in the flight were both young and experienced aircrew members. "I decided that there would be representation from both the squadron's young aircrew members, motivated and forward-thinking, and the experienced aircrews, who would bring their wisdom and signify the squadron's spirit. The flight was an emotional event for me, and I'm sure that everybody who participated will remember it for years to come", emphasized Lt. Col. T'.
"I was very excited", added Brig. Gen. Grinboim. "A 60-year-old 'Re'em' with the tail number of 140 refueling two 60-day-old 'Adir' aircraft. There aren't many forces in the world that do things of this sort, and sometimes it's unbelievable that an aircraft serving in the force for such a long period of time can perform an operational mission for its last flight. Refueling two 'Adir' jets and landing safely can't be taken for granted".
"There's a lot of pride for the squadron's legacy, as well as a look ahead into the future", added Lt. Col. T', and Col. (Res') Y' concluded: "This aircraft has always succeeded at performing its missions. Now it's time for new aircraft to join".