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Who’s Afraid of the Dark? Not the IAF

A peek into how a combat squadron functions once the sun sets.
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Photo Credit: Yonatan Zalk

How do Israel Air Force pilots see in the dark? Last week, the Valley Squadron headed out for a complex, week-long exercise in the dark. Throughout the unique training session, aerial crews practiced various common scenarios that may arise when flying at night. We present a peek into how a combat squadron functions once the sun sets.

Every morning, Israel’s Ramat David airbase is filled with life as reservists make their way to the base to start their day. Last week, however, Ramat David airbase was as silent as ever. Air crew members of the Valley Squadron arrived in the evening and began preparing for a long night of activity. The effort was part of Israel Air Force’s “Reverse Week,” during which air crew members practice nighttime flights.

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Photography: Yonatan Zalk

Air crew members face many challenges when flying in the dark. Their normal sleeping hours are disrupted, and the only way to make out their surroundings is through night-vision devices. Even takeoffs and landings are different due to the darkness. The pilots have to remain at their sharpest at all times. One of the night-vision devices utilized by pilots is called “Journal” – a surveillance device that is fixed on the pilot’s headpiece and brightens the light produced by stars, providing aircrew members with better sight.

Thanks to “Reverse Week”, aircrew members are able to confront challenging scenarios that could arise when flying at night. “We fly at night every week,” clarifies Maj. Lior, deputy commander of the Valley Squadron. “However, when we devote one day a week to flying at night, we only get to fly only once. In comparison, when we ‘reverse’ an entire week, we get to head out at night multiple times, kicking the level of complexity up a notch.”

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Photography: Yonatan Zalk

Not only do the number of nighttime flights taking place this week provide pilots with a higher level of difficulty, the number of people and airplanes that take off make it possible to fly in more complex layouts and formations. “We begin with a relatively simple layout, and as time goes by we make the exercises progressively more difficult,” said Maj. Lior.

A reservist officer in the Valley Squadron, Brig. Gen. (res.) Ram Shmueli agrees that nighttime training once a week was not enough. “Today, as a reservist officer, I can see the advantage of training at night more often because of the extensive experience and expertise you gain.”

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