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Israel launches low-altitude air transport exercise over Romania

Senior officer says training C-130 and C-130J planes in European skies is an opportunity to ‘challenge ourselves, improve, become stronger, beyond Israel’s borders’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli Air Force pilot is seen next to a C-130 transport aircraft in Romania, July 4, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli Air Force pilot is seen next to a C-130 transport aircraft in Romania, July 4, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli Air Force transport planes took off for Romania on Sunday to hold a low-altitude aerial drill over the European country.

The exercise — dubbed Blue Sky — officially began Monday, and was aimed at training the IAF’s C-130 and C-130J transport aircraft for flights in unfamiliar territory at low altitudes, the military said.

The military did not specify the number of aircraft from the IAF’s 131 and 103 squadrons participating, but according to civilian skywatchers, using open-source flight tracking, five heavy transport planes were spotted arriving in the country.

The IAF said pilots would also practice navigation and landings “in many and varied scenarios simulating fighting in enemy territory.”

“Training in the skies of Romania is an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves, to improve and become stronger, beyond the borders of Israel,” said the commander of the Nevatim air base, Brig. Gen. Gilad Keinan.

“This is an important and significant exercise for the heavy transport array and the Air Force, in order to strengthen the operational capability and competence of the corps and its personnel,” Keinan added.

An Israeli Air Force C-130J transport aircraft is seen in Romania, July 4, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

In 2010, an IAF Yas’ur (CH-53 Sea Stallion) helicopter crashed during a joint Israeli-Romanian low-altitude training exercise in the Carpathian mountains, killing the entire crew aboard — six Israelis and one Romanian air force officer.

An investigation determined that the accident was most likely due to human error, given low visibility.

The 2010 drill was also named Blue Sky. A memorial, near the central city of Brasov, was erected a year after the crash.

Other Air Force drills involving Israel’s heavy transport aircraft have been held in Romania in recent years.

An Israeli Air Force C-130J transport aircraft is seen deploying flares during an IAF pilots’ graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Base in southern Israel, June 23, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

In 2015, a C-130J plane conducted a long-range sortie from Israel, over Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.

In 2018, medics and doctors from the Air Force’s elite Unit 669 held a medical evacuation exercise in Romania, simulating transporting wounded people from the European country back to Israel in a C-130 plane, converted to a “flying hospital.”

The army said this week’s drill was planned in advance as part of the 2022 schedule, indicating that it did not stem from a new assessment.

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