The IAF has been around for 67 years, and in those years it has operated and retired tens of different types of aircraft, opened and closed bases, and all the while carried out successful operations. All this history is not merely lost; rather it is collected and published, often with the help of the historians of the Israeli Air Force. “What makes our job special is that there aren’t a lot of people who do this type of research on the Air Force, yet there hasn’t really anything written about us” said Noam Hartuch, a flight historian.
So why do they choose to research and write the history of the IAF? “In wars and operations the IAF has proven itself to be new and innovative, and this innovation becomes apparent in the way that they fly and fight – ways that were never seen before”, he responded. “Due to the fact that the reality we live in is filled with tension, the Air Force needs to keep coming up with new and creative methods, take, for example the story of Munir Redfa, the Iraqi Mig-21 pilot who defected with his plane and landed in Israel, or as seen in many other operations. There are many stories like this, stories that show how the Israeli mindset works, both a little naughty and little bit cheeky”.
Sources, Sources, Sources
The ABC’s of historical research are the sources that the researcher has access to, and the methods of analysis that are applied to them. “Written historical accounts are the cherries on top of the cream” explained Major (res.) Avi Cohen, formerly the Officer in charge of the Historical Research Office in the History Branch of the Air Force. When researching the IAF, there is no shortage of written accounts from which to collect information. “When we write the history of the IAF, we do all that we can to find as many original documents as possible, from pre-flight briefings to post-landing analysis, to every summary and period account of the different squadrons and bases, meetings of the Air Force General Staff, and even the records of relevant meetings on the government level” said Major (res.) Cohen.
Apart from the documented records, there are other sources that must be utilized to write an accurate portrayal of history, some of these records are more standard, and some, less so. “An additional source of information is interviews with current pilots, old air crew members, and others who served in the Air Force” explained Hartuch. “There is also another source, what I call ‘physical research’. I collect information from the old planes, both wrecked ones and ones that are on public display. I photograph the planes from all different angles and then physically examine the plane. This type of research is able to give me some indication of what the plane did while in active service: if the plane is painted in camouflage, it was meant for attack, and if it was painted blue, than it provided superiority in air combat”.
Getting to the Correct Conclusion
The overarching goal in historical research is to portray the objective truth, and this goal holds true for the historians of the Air Force as well. “We are pretty honest with ourselves. If someone was involved in say, a security incident for example, we write about it. We aren’t like a nation where the accurate and critical recording of history is illegal” said Hartuch.
Even from situations where the Air Force didn’t always come out on top, it is possible to come to conclusions and learn from them. “The purposes of historical record are to provide insight into why and where we failed. For example, where did we go wrong in the Yom Kippur War? Why in the first few days were we unable to halt the Syrian advance? What was the importance of achieving aerial superiority?” explained Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Ido Ambar, a former helicopter navigator who also served as the Head of the History Branch. “It is from the answers to these questions that an F-15 or F-16 pilot can learn many invaluable lessons”.