Atop Mt. Olympus, Israeli pilots test their mettle
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Atop Mt. Olympus, Israeli pilots test their mettle

Air force concludes two-week exercise in Greece with helicopters, light transport planes

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Israeli Air Force completed a 16-day exercise in Greece this week that included a landing atop the 2,918-meter (nearly 10,000-feet) Mount Olympus, the fabled home of the Greek gods, the military said.

Israeli Blackhawk and Sikorsky CH-35 heavy transport helicopters — in Hebrew the Ya’sur and Yanshuf, respectively — along with a Beechcraft King Air B-200 light transport plane, known as the Tzofit in Israel, took part in the exercise, according to the air force.

The IAF craft flew some 200 sorties during the 16 days and nights in the Hellenic country, often alongside their Greek counterparts.

The drill put Israeli pilots in unfamiliar locations, performing landings at higher altitudes and in different conditions than they experience in Israel.

Israeli and Greek helicopters on the tarmac during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)
Israeli and Greek helicopters on the tarmac during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)

“Our goal is first and foremost to train our crews in new conditions,” head of the IAF helicopter and air support squadron Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun said, in a video released by the air force.

“Israel’s an amazing country, but it’s small,” he said.

Unlike in the Jewish state, where a smattering of rain in September is considered abnormal, Greece experiences regular rainfall and more severe weather.

The 2,918-meter (9,573-feet) peak of Mount Olympus also provides a significantly higher altitude for landing than Israel’s Mount Hermon, which has a peak of 2,236 meters (7,336 feet).

A technician works on an Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopter during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)
A technician works on an Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopter during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)

“The exercise included cooperation between different IAF divisions and squadrons and cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force while flying in unknown territory, changing topography and tall mountains,” according to the commander of Palmahim Air Force Base, who also led the exercise. (For security reasons, his name cannot be revealed.)

Head of the IAF helicopter and air support squadron Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun, right, speaks with director of the Hellenic Army's Aerial Division Brig. Gen. Christos Iliopoylos, left, during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)
Head of the IAF helicopter and air support squadron Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun, right, speaks with director of the Hellenic Army’s Aerial Division Brig. Gen. Christos Iliopoylos, left, during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)

The exercise also provided the first opportunity for the head of the IAF helicopter and air support squadron to meet his Greek counterpart, Brig. Gen. Christos Iliopoylos, director of the Hellenic Army’s aviation branch, the IAF said.

“Greece is a strategic partner of the State of Israel. This exercise is part of a priceless cooperation. In the past, the Greeks traveled to Israel to train with us,” Nin-Nun said.

The exercise required six months of planning, including a month and a half of preparing the equipment that made the trip over the Mediterranean Sea, the air force said.

It was the fourth time Israel took part in an exercise in Greece.

A Greek F-16 fighter jet flies over Israel during the 'Blue Flag' exercise at Ovda Airfield near Eilat on October 21, 2015. (Israeli Air Force)
A Greek F-16 fighter jet flies over Israel during the ‘Blue Flag’ exercise at Ovda Airfield near Eilat on October 21, 2015. (Israeli Air Force)

In 2015, Greek pilots flew in Israel’s Blue Flag exercise, the IAF’s largest international exercise to date. In the two-week drill, the Hellenic Air Force flew alongside Israelis, Americans and Poles, across the entire country.

Last month, the Israeli Air Force also took part in the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercise, flying with pilots from the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, two countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic ties.

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