IAI 'Nesher'

"Then I heard a pleasant melody..."

On June 3rd 1967, France placed an embargo on arms sales to the Middle East, and refused to supply any more Mirages to Israel. This left the IAF without a next-generation fighter. The Israel Aircraft Industries suggested a quick solution to the problem: the Nesher - the first Israeli-built plane. It resembled a Mirage outwardly, but contained Israeli-developed and manufactured equipment. The first Neshers were handed over to the IAF in early 1970 and were initially integrated into the Mirage squadron.

The Nesher's baptism of fire occurred before the Yom Kippur War. Lt. Col. (res.) Y. - then a Nesher pilot with the rank of Captain - had the privilege of being the first to score an aerial victory in an Israeli-built plane.

Y. remembers it thus:

"There were other squadrons composed solely of Neshers, but maintained a mix of Mirages and Neshers. At the time I was on a short officers' training course, along with some other pilots. The 8th of January began, as far as the IAF was concerned, with some preliminary bombings by Phantoms in the Jebel Druz area, carried out in the clear knowledge that the Syrian Air Force would intervene at some point. It started as a regular day of studies, for me and the others at the course. In the course of the second lesson, we were called up and told to return to the squadron immediately. We didn't let ourselves get too excited about the heightened alert - as interceptor pilots, it was almost a routine state for us.

"We took off in a quartet, led by the late Avi Lanir, who commanded the squadron. We took off with a large supply of fuel, and maintained radio silence. After patrolling in the Hula Valley for about half an hour, the controller instructed us to gather altitude and fly toward Jebel Druz, where a dogfight was being carried out between Phantoms and MiGs. The flight time to the destination was ten minutes and it was almost certain that we would not make it in time to be of help in the present battle.

"We flew southeast and saw huge clouds of smoke sprouting at a distance. When we reached the area, the Phantoms passed by us on their way home. The controller warned us of the presence of MiGs patrolling at a distance, to the north. When we had almost depleted our fuel supply, the MiGs turned toward us. We identified four MiGs initially - it later turned out there were a few more.

"We climbed to an altitude of 20,000 feet, and the initial instructions were to try and head home without engaging the enemy. We were very disappointed. The squadron commander, however, calculated correctly that - given the distance between us and the MiGs - were we to turn home, they would sit on our tails. So he decided to continue flying southeast towards the MiGs, try and pass by them, and then either turn home or engage them. We went east a bit, and were directed into a turn very nicely by the controller, so that we wound up perched on top of the MiGs.

"We were flying at low altitude and low speed, in order to save fuel, and so the chase that evolved was a relatively protracted one, with me and Number Two maintaining eye contact with the MiGs. I was flying lead, in effect. Number Two and I got close to the hindmost pair and tried to close the gap between us and them.

"The MiG-21 was basically superior to the Nesher, but the only fear I felt was the fear of missing a chance to shoot down an enemy plane. I put my nose on my MiG and pulled towards him, but I realized that I would have to give up the chase at a certain point. I hoped that point would only come after I fired...

"In a controlled pull, I managed to bring the Nesher to the edge of its flight envelope. Then I heard a pleasant melody: the special beep that confirmed that the missile had acquired the target. I decided that this was as good a chance as I would get for shooting him down, and fired. I couldn't afford to wait to see the results. I rolled over, picked up speed and decreased altitude. I turned my head at a sharp angle and saw the missile flying at the MiG. I must say in honesty that it was not a perfect rear-section launch: the missile went towrds the plane's nose rather than its tail. Still, the missile steered nicely towards the target, and I could see the MiG lose height rapidly, trailing a plume of smoke.

"I drew a deep breath and turned homeward. Number Two confirmed the hit on the MiG, but he had not seen it blow up or fall. Later in the battle, Number Two shot down another MiG, and was hit himself - but managed to return and land safely at Ramat David. The other MiGs managed to get away.

"I returned home but did not execute a victory roll, since the kill had not been confirmed. That evening, there was a general debriefing regarding the day's aerial activity, and my victory was formally confirmed.

"The truth be told, I did not get too excited over the fact that this was the first kill by an Israeli-made plane. After all, I saw the Nesher as another component in the IAF's array of aircraft. You should also bear in mind that, at the time, the Nesher's existence was a secret and very few people were even aware of it. People within the Air Force were aware of the significance of the victory, but my joy was simply the joy of victory, no more than that - and no less".