Israel Air Force to phase out its original fighter jet squadron

In a cost-cutting move, the Israel Air Force will close down a fighter squadron comprised of aging F-16 combat jets. It was the country’s first to get fighter jets in the 1950s.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The Israel Air Force will close one of its storied fighter squadrons in a cost-cutting measure, the IDF announced Wednesday.

Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin decided to close the 117th squadron that operates out of the Ramat David air base in northern Israel that is currently comprised of aging F-16I fighter jets.

The Squadron is known by its nickname the “First Jet” because it flew Israel’s first jet fighters, the British-made Gloster Meteor that Israel acquired in the early 1950s. The same jet was also operated at the time by Israel’s enemies, Egypt and Syria, and saw action in the 1956 Suez campaign.

The squadron is most famous for leading the 1981 attack that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, in what the IDF termed “an attack that changed the Middle East.” It is is one of 36 known air wings that comprise different fixed wing aircraft and helicopter squadrons for transportation, combat, reconnaissance and search and rescue

The decision to close the wing was part of the multiyear program put in place by IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi to promote internal efficiency and phase out old equipment while acquiring and developing new systems.

Norkin said the squadron was closed as part of a 10-year plan for streamlining the Air Force and assessing future challenges, which also includes focusing on 5th-generation aircraft like the F-35 stealth fighter that Israel has put into service.

The 117th squadron took part in all of Israel’s wars and first shot down enemy planes in 1955. Over the years pilots from the “First Jet” were responsible for downing over 120 enemy aircraft. An F-16 pilot from the squadron was the first in the world to shoot down a Russian-made MiG-23 fighter.

The squadron will continue to operate and train until its closure, scheduled for October 2020.