They come from all over the country, from the heart of the urban sprawl to the fields of the kibbutzim, mostly men, but also four women, and together they completed one of the most prestigious — and trying — courses in the country: the Israeli Air Force flight training school.
The 165th flight program will come to an end at the Hatzerim air base this Thursday after three years of intensive, grueling training. At a ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the chief of staff and the commander of the air force, the graduates will finally receive their coveted wings, marking them as pilots, navigators, and air crew members in the IAF.
Along with the other graduates of what is often seen as one of the army’s most macho of courses will be four women, three of whom will graduate as combat navigators and one of whom is a flight engineer. One of the combat navigators is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to complete the course. In total, 16 percent of the flight program graduates described themselves as either religious or traditional Jews.
Figures released by the air force over the weekend show that among the newest flight crews 48% are first-born sons, 35% are middle children, and only 17% are youngest.
While like-father-like-son only applies to 7% of the graduates, 34% of the new flyers have mothers who are involved in education.
Of the graduates, 63% come from urban areas in the central region, with 27% from the north and 10% from the south.
The statistics show that 74% of the trainees were members of a youth movement and 34% of them did a year of volunteer work before enlisting.
Although most of the graduates were born in Israel, some came from abroad including the United States, France, Denmark, and Ukraine.
The pilots engage in a range of hobbies and pastimes, with 71% saying they enjoy such sports as basketball, soccer, hiking, rock-climbing, and cycling. Two of the graduates played in the same band together, another is a classically trained pianist and one of the new pilots was a member of the Israeli national skiing team.