1923-2017'I’m Jewish; Israel desperately needed fighter pilots'

US aviator who helped form Israeli Air Force dies at 94

An original member of Israel’s first fighter squadron in 1948 War of Independence, Mitchell Flint co-founded the ‘Machal’ group of non-Israeli IDF volunteers

Mitchell Flint standing in front of his P51 Mustang fighter plane in Israel in 1948. (JTA/Tom Tugend)
Mitchell Flint standing in front of his P51 Mustang fighter plane in Israel in 1948. (JTA/Tom Tugend)

Mitchell Flint, an American aviator who helped form the Israeli Air Force in 1948 and served in Israel’s first fighter squadron has died. He was 94.

Flint, a former US Navy fighter pilot, died Saturday in Los Angeles of natural causes, said his son, Michael Flint, the former head of Paramount Pictures.

In the summer of 1948, Flint, with a four-year wartime stint as a US Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific under his belt, graduated as an industrial engineer from the Berkeley campus of the University of California. At the same time, the newly declared State of Israel was struggling to defend itself from six invading Arab armies.

“I’m Jewish, Israel desperately needed trained fighter pilots, so I thought I could perhaps do something to sustain the state,” Flint recalled in a 2012 interview.

Flint was one of the founding members of “Machal,” a group of non-Israelis who fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He was one of the original members of the Israeli Air Force’s first fighter squadron and helped train Israel’s first military pilots, his son said.

An Israeli Air Force Avia S-199 of the 101st squadron in June 1948. (Wikipedia/Public Domain)

Flint and other members of the Machal had flown in German planes that were captured during World War II and covered the Nazi insignia with Stars of David. He flew in rebuilt Messerschmitts, Germany’s main fighter plane during World War II, as well as Mustangs and Spitfires.

When he returned to the United States, Flint moved to Los Angeles and became a lawyer. He continued flying until last year, his son said.

“He was a humble man who did what he did and never looked for glory,” Michael Flint said of his father. “He was proud of what he did until the very end.”

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