Bought in the mid-1970s to secure air superiority for Israel in the Middle East for decades to come, the F-15 Baz (as the Eagle has been christened by Israeli Air Force, IAF) has indeed been the unrivalled master of the skies since its arrival in December 1976.
The fighter claimed its first kills three years later in the disputed airspace over southern Lebanon, when the IDF/AF skirmished with the Syrian Air Force.
When full-scale war broke out between Israel and Syria in June 1982, the then IDF/AF’s solitary F-15 squadron cut a swathe through the ranks of Syrian MiG-21s and MiG-23s. Between Jun. 7 and 11, the Double Tail Squadron claimed 33 aircraft destroyed without loss. From this conflict emerged the world’s first, and only, F-15 aces.
But, as told by Shlomo Aloni in his book Israeli F-15 Eagle Units in Combat, IAF Baz force’s operational activity was at an ebb in the late 1980s, with three precious F-15s being lost in accidents and Spearhead Squadron (the second Baz unit activated in June 1982) commander Amos Yadlin being removed from office after almost shooting down his wingman on Apr. 1, 1988.
Yadlin and his wingman Shai Gilad had returned from an operational mission in fully armed jets that still had plenty of fuel in their tanks. As was the custom at the time, both pilots opted to practise a 1-v-1 air combat scenario rather than dump fuel in order to get the jets down to their landing weights. Failing to follow the appropriate safety checks that would have disarmed his missiles, Yadlin pressed the trigger when he got on the tail of Gilad and, to his horror, a live missile shot off a launch rail. Luckily for his wingman, the F-15 is one of the world’s most survivable fast jets, and the Baz withstood the impact.
Just as Ronen Shapira had landed his one-engined, battle-damaged jet in 1982 and Ziv Nadivi had somehow got his one-winged F-15 down in 1983 following a mid-air collision during an ACM sortie, Gilad brought his Baz back to base. Yadlin accepted full responsibility for the incident and prematurely ended his term as squadron CO.
Four months later, on Aug. 15, 1988, Yadlin’s counterpart in the Double Tail Squadron also ended his tenure prematurely, but in far more tragic circumstances. Ram Caller was killed when his jet collided with an F-15 flown by Ehud Falk during an air combat training session — the latter pilot also died.
The loss of these jets, together with the crash of an F-15B in April 1987 and Guy Golan’s accident in September 1979, reduced the active Baz fleet to 46 jets. In an effort to bring the force back up to the optimum level of 50 aircraft, and to further enhance the long-range multi-role capability of the Double Tail and Spearhead Squadrons, Israel secured the purchase of five F-15Ds for a staggering $265 million in 1988.
F-15 Eagle Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Israeli Air Force
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