Major General (retired) Herzl Bodinger, the twelfth Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force, was born in Israel in 1943. On his enlistment into the IDF in August 1961, he volunteered for pilot training, which he graduated as a combat pilot. Following his graduation he took an operational training course on the Ouragan jet, and was placed in a Mystère squadron. At the end of 1963 he was transferred to a Vautour squadron in Ramat David Airbase. He carried out numerous roles in various squadrons on the Airbase, and eventually became its commander.
Between November 1965 and December 1967 he was an instructor in the IAF Flight School. During the Six Day War Bodinger flew sorties as part of the Vautour Squadron, taking part in the assaults the Egyptian Bani-Souif and Luxor airfields and on the Iraqi H-3 airfield. During the assault on Luxor airfield Bodinger's main fuel tank was struck by Egyptian antiaircraft fire. Severe fuel leakage caused one of the engines to cut out, but Bodinger continued to the fly the plane on one engine and, using its last drop of fuel, landed safely at Eilat Airbase.
In December 1967 Bodinger returned to Ramat David Airbase, where he continued to serve as a Vautor pilot. He served briefly as a Mirage pilot, before returning to the Vautor squadron as Second-in-Command B. After some months he was appointed Second-in-Command A, and finally transferred back to the Mirage squadron where he also acted as Second-in-Command A. In April 1972 he was appointed as the commander of a training squadron in the IAF Flight School. During the Yom Kippur War Bodinger piloted a Mirage Jet and downed a Syrian MiG-17; On 9th October 1973 Bodinger was leading a patrol in the Quneitra area and spotted four Syrian MiG-17s. Bodinger engaged the MiGs at low altitude, deep into Syrian airspace. One was struck by his cannons and crashed soon afterwards. On the last day of the war, Bodinger was placed in command of the "1st Combat" Squadron, after its previous commander, Lieutenant Colonel Avi Lanir was killed. In April 1974, during skirmishes with Syria, Bodinger was scrambled for an air combat mission, and downed a MiG-21 over Lebanon.
The "1st Combat" Squadron was the first to receive the IAI Kfir (meaning "lion cub"), and thus Bodinger flew the inaugural flight of the first Kfir handed over to the IAF by Israel Aircraft Industries on Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) in May 1975. Later he was appointed head of the Aircraft Branch of the Weaponry Department in IAF Headquarters. In July 1979 he was appointed as commander of the IAF flight school. In January 1982, nearly 10 years after he left the Ramat David Airbase, Bodinger returned to become its commander. He commanded over the base throughout Operation Peace for the Galilee, in which the Ramat David's aircraft played a significant role.
In August 1984 Bodinger was made head of the Air Group, and promoted to the rank of brigadier general. A year he became commander of IAF Headquarters. In July 1987, he left to study for a bachelor's degree in Economics and Business Management at Bar-Ilan University, after which he took Harvard University's Advanced Management Program. In February 2009 he served as military advisor to the comptroller of the security forces, and two years later, in January 1992, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force, replacing Avihu Ben-Nun.
Under Bodinger's command, the IAF acquired the F-15I ("Ra'am") and the Blackhawk helicopter, and carried out Operation "Accountability" in July 1993 and Operation "Grapes of Wrath" in April 1996. During "Grapes of Wrath", Bodinger took part in a reconnaissance flight in Lebanon, the last of his 451 operational flights during his IAF service. Bodinger will also be remembered as the IAF Commander in Chief during whose tenure pilot training was first opened to women, in July 1996, after nearly 50 years.
In July 1996 Bodinger passed command of the IAF to Eitan Ben Eliyahu. A few months after his retirement from military service, Ben Eliyahu was appointed President of RADA Electronic Industries.