Squadrons

The International Squadron

Lod Airbase

Aircraft:
• Boeing 377 Stratocruiser (known in Hebrew as the “Anak”, meaning “Giant”)
• Douglas C-47 Dakota
• Lockeed C-130 Hercules (Known in Hebrew as the “Karnaf”, meaning “Rhinoceros”)
• Boeing 707 (known in Hebrew as the “Re'em”, meaning “Oryx”)
• IAI Westwind Sea Scan (known in Hebrew as the “Shahaf”, meaning “Seagull”)

The Squadron's Establishment

On 15th May 1963 a flight, subordinate to Tel Nof airbase, was established in Lod. The flight consisted of five civilian model Stratocruisers that had been purchased from the US, and two Dakotas that were transferred from the “Elephants” squadron. The flight was established for transport and airlift flights, patrols and special missions. On 1st July 1964 the flight became the “International” squadron, under the command of Major Arieh Oz. In its first years the squadron's missions were focused on flights abroad, in particular to Africa. This period saw the high point in Israel-Africa connections. The Stratocruiser carried all transport missions to Africa, both of personnel and cargo.

Wars and Operations

During the second half of the sixties the US weakened the limitations on the sale of military aircraft to Israel. In this context a number of out-dated Stratofreighters (the military version of the Stratocruiser) that had ended their service in the USAF were purchased. Four of them arrived at the start of 1967, and were renovated over a period of a year before being placed in the squadron. Between 1967 and 1973 the Air Force purchased additional Stratocruisers capable of mid-air refuelling. The last of them reached Israel in October 1973 – the period of the Yom Kippur War.

During the Six Day War the squadron also flew Dakotas belonging to the French Air Force that had been undergoing refurbishment at IAI, and which were enlisted in the war effort. During the Six Day War the Stratocruisers carried out an unusual operation in which barrels of fuel and water tanks were airdropped to assist the armoured forces in Sinai. The squadron’s other operations during the war included airdrops, transport and aerial radio relay.

On 17th September 1971 one of the squadron's Stratocruisers was brought down by SA-2 missile fire whilst it was carrying out a photography flight above Sinai. Seven out of eight of the crew were lost.

On 14th September 1972 the squadron participated in a one-of-its-kind mission: the airlift of a dozen African Wild Asses, the biblical wild donkey that had become extinct in Israel. The operation was carried out after Avraham Yafe, then the director of the Israel Nature Reserves Authority, succeeded in recruiting Italian animal traders, the residents of a remote village in Ethiopia and the IAF to bring the animals back to Israel. A year earlier the squadron had received the IAF's first two Hercules. These were the IAF's only aircraft capable of taking off and landing on dirt paths, as the mission required. Thus, during the same period when transport flights were regularly flying to Ethiopia, one of them returned to Israel carrying the donkeys.

At the start of the Yom Kippur War the squadron consisted of Stratocruisers and a pair of Hercules. With the opening of the fighting the Air Force urgently required large transport aircrafts, both to fly soldiers to and from the front lines and for transporting equipment and supplies from abroad. Thus, the IAF enlisted a pair of Boeing 707s that were undergoing refurbishment by IAI. On 14th October the “Yellow Bird” Squadron was established following the arrival of 12 Hercules from the US. The “International” Squadron transferred their two Hercules to this new squadron. During the war the Squadron carried out transport flights, both for equipment and soldiers, evacuated the wounded, undertook electronic warfare and acted as an aerial relay.

On 4th November 1973 the squadron receive its first Boeing 707, with four more arriving during 1974.  With the start of their operation the need for more aircraft if this kind became apparent; their ability to carry heavy loads in addition to their high speed and long airtime made them ideal for a wide range of military operations.

On 4th July 1976 two Boeing 707s participated in the rescue operation of Israeli hostages from Entebbe in Uganda. The hostages had been taken during the hijacking of an Air France plane. One of the aircraft was equipped as an airborne hospital and on its return from Uganda landed temporarily in Nairobi, Kenya. The other acted as an airborne forward command post, from which the deputy IDF Chief of Staff, the Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force commanded the mission.

Humanitarian Missions and the Establishment of the Sea Patrol Flight

After the attack on the Savoy Hotel on Tel Aviv seafront it became apparent that the IDF did not have a way of preventing terrorist infiltration from the sea. The answer was found in the form of aerial sea patrols, and in June 1977 the Commander in Chief of the Navy announced the decision to acquire three aircraft. In parallel, the Air Force announced their decision to establish a flight within the “International” Squadron. The flight was made up of Sea Scan aircraft, a plane that had been designed for sea patrols. It was based on the IAI Westwind 1123, a business jet, and was equipped with a radar nose and electromagnetic detection systems.

From 1978 onwards the squadron's Boeing 707s were used to fly VIPs, including Presidents and Prime Ministers abroad.

On 1st October 1986 eight F-15s from the “Edge of the Spear” Squadron and the “Knights of the Twin Tail” Squadron attacked the PLO headquarters in Tunisia. The squadron took part, providing mid-air refuelling and carrying a forward command post.

In September 1985, one of the Squadron's Boeings took part in an aid mission to Mexico following a major earthquake.

On 7th December 1988 a major earthquake shook Armenia, causing massive damage. The State of Israel decided to provide humanitarian aid to the wounded, by sending medical and rescue teams and medical equipment. The flight was carried out using the squadron's Boeing 707.

On 24th and 25th May 1991 a large scale airlift of Ethiopian Jews was carried out. Roughly 14,500 Jews were brought to Israel over two days in IAF Hercules and Boeing 707s, as well as an civilian aircraft operated by El AL. Six of the squadrons' Boeing 707s took part, carrying out 12 sorties in 2 rounds, bringing around 5,600 olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel). In the wake of the war between the Tutsi and the Hutu and Rwanda, the IAF flew in medical assistance to the refugees on the Rwanda-Zaire border. In this operation the Squadron flew six sorties, carrying equipment, medicine and the delegation's staff.

Following the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires Israel sent a Boeing 707 from the squadron carrying an aid team and 20 tonnes of equipment to help. The Boeing 707 also flew back the aid team once the aid operation had been completed.

Following the civil war in Yugoslavia, the government of Israel decided to provide aid to Muslim refugees in Bosnia. On 25th July 1995 one of the squadron's Boeing 707s delivered 20 tonnes of equipment and medicine to aid the refugees. The aid was arranged in cooperation with the Jordanian Air Force.

The International Squadron
The International Squadron