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Completing a new test flight, ‘Israel’s Air Force One’ soars toward operation

‘Wing of Zion’ to undergo another trial next week on defensive measures; if it succeeds, date to be scheduled for transfer to air force

The 'Wing of Zion,' the Israeli version of Air Force One, is seen above Ben Gurion Airport, on its first test flight, November 3, 2019. (Yoav Weiss/Israel Aerospace Industries)
The 'Wing of Zion,' the Israeli version of Air Force One, is seen above Ben Gurion Airport, on its first test flight, November 3, 2019. (Yoav Weiss/Israel Aerospace Industries)

A specially modified jet that will be used by the prime minister and the president for official visits abroad has successfully completed its latest test flight, bringing it a step closer to becoming operational, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.

The Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, reportedly to be known as “Wing of Zion,” has been described as Israel’s Air Force One, the codename for a plane carrying the US president.

An Israel Aerospace Industries test pilot took the plane up to the skies on Tuesday to check its systems, the report said, without providing details on how long the flight lasted.

Another test flight is scheduled for next week, during which technicians will check various communication systems, the plane’s electronic warfare capabilities, and its defense against missile attacks.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah Netanyahu board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport before departing for Munich, February 15, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

If all goes well, a final date will be scheduled for the aircraft’s official transfer to the Israeli Air Force, which will be responsible for its operation.

The plane will be housed in a specially constructed hanger at the Nevatim airbase and will have 24-hour protection by guards from the Prime Minister’s Office. Pilots will be drawn from the air force’s 122 Squadron which operates converted Gulfstream business jets used for airborne early warning and signals intelligence.

“Wing of Zion” pilots will be drawn from the squadron’s career officers and reservists. Future crews have been trained on a simulator and have already had the chance to fly the plane itself in the past, according to the report.

The aircraft made its maiden flight in November 2019 after two years of preparation.

According to IAI, the plane can reach the United States, China, Japan and Brazil without stopovers.

The government has so far approved NIS 729 million ($206 million) for the purchase and remodeling of the plane, which had previously served for almost 20 years as a passenger plane for Australian carrier Qantas.

The project has caused controversy, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics denouncing it as unnecessary and overly costly.

Whether or not Netanyahu ever gets to use the plane may be decided in the coming March 23 elections, with the prime minister seeking to remain in office.

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