History of Flight from Around the World
The first airplane to visit the Holy Land was a Bleriot XI, flown by the French aviator Jules Vedrines, who participated in a competition to fly from Paris to Cairo. He landed near Jaffa, on the Mediterranean coast, on December 27th, 1913 - at a time when Palestine was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Vedrines took off from Nancy in eastern France on November 20, 1913, and headed his Bleriot XI for central Europe, where his main stops were Prague, Vienna and Belgrade. His last stop in Europe was the Ottoman Empire capital Constantinople (today Istanbul in Turkey), after which he flew over Ottoman territory around the eastern Mediterranean, finally reaching Egypt via Beirut and Jaffa.
A few days later, on December 31st, 1913, a second French airplane reached Palestine - a Nieuport flown by Mark Bornier and Joseph Bernie, which landed near Jerusalem.
As Turkish pilots wanted also to prove their ability to perform long-distance flights, the "Cairo Expedition" was announced at the beginning of 1914. The aim was to complete a travel of about 2,370-km from Istanbul in Turkey to Alexandria in Egypt, through Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Two airplanes - a Bleriot XI and a Deperdussin with Turkish pilots - took off on February 8th 1914 for the attempt. The Bleriot XI crashed near the Lake of Galilee and its two pilots were killed. The Deperdussin managed to reach Palestine and landed near Jaffa on March 9th, but when taking off to continue the journey, it crashed into the Mediterranean; one pilot drowned in the accident, while the other survived. Another Bleriot, named "Edremit" and flown by Salim and Kemal Bey, finally completed the "Cairo Expedition" successfully in mid-May 1914.
Aviation played a limited role in the Middle East during World War I. British military forces trying to conquer Palestine had to confront German airplanes, which came to the help of the Turkish army. By the end of the war, the British captured the entire land of Palestine. In 1923, the League of Nations gave the U.K. a mandate for the administration of Palestine, which continued until May 1948.
The minority Jewish population in Palestine started to show interest in aviation in the mid 1930s. Initially, a few aero clubs were founded for glider training - the Carmel Club, the Flying Camel Club and the Aero Club of Palestine. The next step was obviously to train pilots on single-engine light planes. This activity commenced at the Palestine Flying Service, which operated three Taylorcraft light planes. The first 11 graduates received their private pilot licenses in April 1939. A second flying school was run at the same time by the Aviron ("Airplane") company, operating a Tiger Moth biplane and three Polish-made RWD-8 biplanes. First graduates of the Aviron flying school received their licenses in July 1939. Aviron grew bigger with the years, merged with Palestine Flying Service and acquired more aircraft. By January 1942, already 95 private pilot's licenses were obtained in Palestine. Aviron also assisted the Jewish underground military organization ("Haganah") in defense operations.
The first local airline - Palestine Airways - started operating inland flights in July 1937 with two Shorts S.16 Scion twin-engine aircraft. Later it acquired a Shorts S.22 Scion Senior and a DH-89A Dragon Rapide, and extended its services to Egypt, Lebanon and Cyprus. Palestine Airways continued operating until August 1940, when its aircraft were taken over for British military service in WWII.
Between July 1937 and the end of the British mandate in May 1948, 22 commercial and private aircraft were registered in Palestine. Following the UN resolution in November 1947 to divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, effective upon the termination of the British Mandate in May 1948, there was an outbreak of severe hostilities. The need for air power became critical to the Jews' survival, and from this dire necessity was borne the Sherut Avir ("Air Service") - an illegal, clandestine Jewish air force. Only 10 light planes were available then in Jewish hand. Additional aircraft were acquired from every possible source. When the state of Israel was founded in May 14th 1948, Sherut Avir had already 25 aircraft. It became the Israeli Air Force, which played a vital role in the War of Independence. In less than a year the Israeli Air Force introduced into service 178 aircraft of 30 different types - an outstanding achievement from the operational and maintenance aspects. Those included heavy bombers, fighters, large and small transports, trainers and various other types.
Aviation progress in Israel was very rapid over the years, in almost every aspect. Notable aeronautical milestones in the first years are:
- Establishing an Israeli Society of Aeronautics in February 1951 (which merged in 1968 with the Israel Astronautical Society and became the Israeli Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics).
- Establishing the national airline EL AL in November 1948.
- The maintenance facility Bedek Aviation opened its gates in 1953, forming the basis for an aircraft industry - later to become Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).
- A department of aeronautical engineering was inaugurated in the Technion in 1954, later to become the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering.
55 years after its foundation, Israel has one of the biggest and most modern air forces in the world, successful international and regional airlines, hundreds of registered general aviation and sport aircraft, renowned research and educational academic institutes, and above all - a most advanced aerospace industry. Israeli defense companies have been developing and manufacturing for years combat aircraft, business jets, all kinds of missiles, UAVs, space launchers and satellites. Israel has become a world leader in many aerospace fields.
Originally provided to AIAA for its Evolution of Flight Campaign, 2003.
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