Squadrons

The Rolling Sword

Location: Palmahim

Aircraft:

• Sirkosky S-55
• Alouette II
• Sirkosky S-58
• Bell 205
• Bell 212  (known in Hebrew as the “Anafa”, meaning “Heron”)
• HH-65A Dolphin
• UH-60A Blackhawk (known in Hebrew as the “Yanshuf”, meaning “Owl)

The idea of acquiring helicopters was first raised in 1947, as a solution for maintaining a connection with remote settlements. During the Independence War they were again proposed, this time as a way of rescuing the wounded. However, the idea dropped off the agenda due to their high price.  In May 1951 prototypes of the three-seater Hiller 360 reached Israel for examination and trials and were the first two helicopters in the IAF. The helicopters were placed in the “Flying Camel” Squadron in Ramla. However, they were old, poorly maintained and lacked replacement parts. The helicopters leaked oil in flight, and the pilot often had to land to refill the tank. Occasionally parts would break, fall off, explode or otherwise cease to function. Captain Carol Zabadi, the IAF's first helicopter pilot: “In one incident, we were flying to exercises around Hatzor. We started out and the batteries ran out. Luckily there was a truck nearby, so we called it in, connected jump cables and started the motor up again...”

On 3rd November, three days before the end of the Sinai Campaign, the IAF's first two Sirkosky S-55 transport helicopters were received. They were placed in the “Flying Camel” Squadron, alongside the Hiller 360s. However, they did not take an operational role in the campaign.

On 1st January 2958 the “Rolling Sword” Flight became the “Rolling Sword Squadron”, under the command of Major Uri Yarom. At first it was made up of only a pair of Sirkosky S-55s and one Alouette II.

On 9th February the squadron carried out its first deployment on Kibbutz Naan, a site which later became the Squadron's emergency landing pad. During May and June three Sirkosky S-58 medium transport helicopters arrived in Israel. In addition, the squadron developed a combat doctrine that included cooperation with the predecessor to Sayeret Matkal.

During January 1961 three more Alouette IIs joined the squadron, following the collapse of “Arkia-Aliza”, a civil aviation company.  The Aloutte continued to fly in the squadron until 1965, when the remaining pair of helicopters was transferred to the “Flying Camel” Squadron.

As part of a deal with Germany, Sirkosky S-58 helicopters were sold to Israel. The first of these helicopters arrived to haKishon Port on 24th December 1962, and the last on 11th August 1963. The acquisition of so many helicopters in such a short time was a turning point for the squadron, which until that point had only included 11 helicopters of three different types. Suddenly the squadron was short of air crew. On 2nd April 1963 the S-55 ended its operational service and was transferred to the IAF's technical school to help train future helicopter mechanics.

During the Six Day War the squadron transported ground troops, including units from the Paratroopers Brigade, to the front lines. In the four operations it transported around 1,200 soldiers. Most of the sorties were to evacuate the wounded. 650 injured soldiers were flown to safety, as were 13 aircrew who had been forced to eject, 7 of them from behind enemy lines.

During the War of Attrition the squadron began to pursue terrorists in the West Bank. The helicopters were armed with machine guns, and were an important tool in carrying out the operations against terrorists and in providing assistance to forces from the Paratroopers Brigade.

On 15th December 1967 the first Bell 205 medium transport helicopters reached Ashdod port. They arrived in the Squadron in October 1968, when the Sirkosky S-58 ended its service. On the night between 28th and 29th December 1968 Operation Gift took place – IDF forces landed in Beirut International Airport and blew up aircraft belong to Arab airlines. The operation was planned in the aftermath of the hijacking of an El Al plane in July of the same year, and other attacks on El Al's planes. The squadron's task was to fly the forward command post, to block the roads leading to the airport with smoke grenades, nails, oil and machine gun fire.

During the Yom Kippur War most of the squadron's activities were evacuating the wounded, and more than 890 soldiers were flown to safety. During the war the squadron airlifted 25 IAF aircrew and 4 enemy pilots. The squadron also pursued Egyptian commando units who had managed to get behind the IDF's front lines.

One of the lessons of the war was the need to replace the Bell 205 as a result of wear resulting form their operations close to the ground and at high temperatures. The preference was for a two-seater medium transport helicopter that could also carry out rescue operations at see. Two options were considered, both products of Bell, an American company. Eventually the Bell 212, a civilian model based on the Bell 205 was chosen. On 23rd August 1981 the squadron left Tel Nof, where it had been founded, and moved to Palmahim Airbase.

During the First Lebanon War most of the squadron's activities were carried out from Air Force's technical school in the north. The squadron focused on evacuating wounded soldiers and rescue operations for aircrew who ejected. When the focus of the war effort moved east, towards Syria, part of the squadron was deployed in Mahanayim.

Following the Navy's acquisition of long-range Harpoon missiles that could reach targets outside the range of the boat's radar systems the IDF decided to find a helicopter that could allow the ship's radar to see further. The HH-65A Dolphin was chosen. On 26th July 1985 a pair of Dolphins arrived, and formed a flight within the squadron. In April 1987 this flight became a squadron of its own – the “Defenders of the West” Squadron.

In August 1994 the squadron received the UH-60A Blackhawk, a product of Sirkosky. The helicopter received the Hebrew name “Yanshuf”, meaning “Owl”. Thus, the squadron began to operate two different platforms, the Blackhawk and the Bell 212. On 15th July 1998 the Bell 212 ended its flights with the squadron, after 23 years in the squadron.

During the Second Lebanon War the squadron again proved its effectiveness and carried out the rescues of many wounded soldiers, often whilst under heavy fire. 

The Rolling Sword
The Rolling Sword