The History of the Israel Air Force begins in May 1948, shortly after the formation of the State of Israel. Following Israels declaration of independence on May 14, its national institutions transformed into the agencies of a state, and on May 26,1948. Beginning with a collection of light aircraft, the force soon transformed into a comprehensive fighting force. It has since participated in wars and numerous engagements, becoming what has been described as The mightiest air force in the Middle East. Preceded by the Sherut Avir, the air wing of the Haganah, at first, it was assembled from a hodge-podge collection of civilian aircraft commandeered or donated and converted to military use. A variety of obsolete and surplus ex-World War II combat aircraft were quickly sourced by various means – both legal and illegal – to supplement this fleet, some spitfires were ferried from Žatec base code-named Zebra where pilots also received preliminary flight training, while others were transported by sea. Creativity and resourcefulness were the foundations of Israeli military success in the air. Many of the first IAFs pilots in 1948 were foreign volunteers and World War II veterans, the IAFs humble beginnings made its first air victories particularly impressive and noteworthy. Similarly the Air Transport Command begun its existence as the Panamanian registered Lineos Aeros de Panama Society Anonyme or LAPSA acquired C-46, of the 607 IAF servicemen who served in the IAF during the War of Independence, over 414 of them were volunteers from overseas. Israels new fighter arm first went into action on May 29,1948, four newly arrived Avia S-199s, flown by Lou Lenart, Modi Alon, Ezer Weizman and Eddie Cohen, struck Egyptian forces near Isdud. Although damage was minimal, two aircraft were lost and Cohen killed, the attack achieved its goal and the Egyptians stopped. The Avias were back in action on May 30, attacking Jordanian forces near Tulkarem, after un-assembled planes were strafed on the ground on May 30th at Ekron airfield the fighters were moved to makeshift strip located around the current Herzliya Airport. The Israeli Air Force scored its first aerial victories on June 3 when Modi Alon, flying Avia D.112, the first dogfight against enemy fighters took place a few days later, on June 8, when Gideon Lichtaman shot down an Egyptian Spitfire. During these initial operations, the squadron operated with a few planes versus almost complete Arab theater Air supremacy and the airplanes were parked dispersed between the orange trees. As the war progressed, more and more aircraft were procured, including Boeing B-17s, Bristol Beaufighters, de Havilland Mosquitoes and P-51D Mustangs, although the IAF had never secured complete aerial supremacy, by the end of the war it had proven decisive in the air. The war also saw the IAF clash with Britains Royal Air Force, during the summer and autumn of 1948 RAF photo-reconnaissance De Havilland Mosquitos of No.13 Squadron RAF flew routine reconnaissance overflights over Israel. These high-altitude flights remained unchallenged until Israel acquired the Mustang, on November 20,1948 one such reconnaissance aircraft was spotted over the Galilee and was shot down by Wayne Peake, crashing in the Mediterranean off Ashdod. The IAF and RAF clashed again on January 7,1949, during Operation Horev, the Israeli Air Force played an important part in Operation Kadesh, Israels part in the 1956 Suez Crisis
Tel Aviv, June 3, 1948: Modi Alon chases a Royal Egyptian Air Force C-47 in an Avia S-199 to score the IAF's first aerial victory
The Black Spitfire
P-51D at the Israeli Air Force Museum; the marking beneath the cockpit notes its participation in the wire-cutting operation at the onset of the Suez Crisis.