No longer mothballed, Israel’s ‘Air Force One’ completes further test flight

NIS 750 million ‘Wing of Zion,’ which took years to complete, has been the subject of intense public and government criticism

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)
Illustrative: 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/File)

Israel’s version of Air Force One, which was packed into storage by the previous government before ever having been brought into service, completed another test flight Monday, as it picks up speed towards finally becoming operational.

The approximately NIS 750 million ($241 million) project, dubbed “Wing of Zion,” took years to outfit and was intended to be used by Israeli heads of state for official business. But neither former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, nor President Isaac Herzog touched the plane, which was commissioned under, and closely associated with, current premier Benjamin Netanyahu during his previous term in office.

Last year, the Defense Ministry announced that it was placing the Boeing 767 in storage just months after the plane received final approval for takeoff. However, under the new government, the plane has recently been undergoing a series of ground checks and test flights.

For its latest sortie, Wing of Zion took off from Nevatim air force base in the south, conducted a number of aerial maneuvers, and then landed at Ben Gurion Airport, the Walla news site reported. After spending some time on the ground there for further checks, the plane was flown back to Nevatim.

In a scathing report released last year, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said the cost of an average flight aboard the new plane would be close to double that of chartering a private jet for official business. Englman also criticized the demand for a plane that could hold 100-120 people, despite the average flight by a prime minister containing only 61 people.

Nevertheless, Englman said the new plane is “a clear improvement over the previous situation… in the level of security, including defense of the plane and information security.” Others have noted that the predicted costs of future flights stated by the comptroller include the already sunk costs in its creation.

The 20-year-old 767 Boeing plane, which underwent significant renovations, includes a private office for the prime minister, a bedroom with a bathroom and shower, a fully stocked kitchen, a meeting room, and even a “war room.”

Following the comptroller’s report in March, then-foreign minister Yair Lapid publicly called for the sale of “Wing of Zion,” saying “it represents everything that was corrupt and broken in the Netanyahu government.”

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