Yael – Woman Pilot – Part Two

Rishoni – Yael and Rena
KF, a senior instructor, once saw me sitting on the grass outside the barracks talking with Rena, a woman pilot who had learned to fly in the USA.  He called me and told me not to ask Rena’s advice on flying.  Rena had learned to fly in the States and they had different procedures there.  I felt that KF had a fatherly feeling towards me and was trying to help.

Rena was hard to teach because she was stubborn and did not accept advice easily.  Descended from a rich and well-respected family in Israel, she decided to learn to fly. She joined a gliding club near Tel Aviv but the best option at that time was to travel to the USA.  She learned to fly better than some of colleagues in her gliding school back in Israel. These same colleagues eventually became her instructors in the air cadet course. When she heard that I had been accepted to the air-cadet course she came back home and applied.  To her credit she had logged 200 hours of flying and many hours of gliding; she became the first girl who was accepted for training by the Air Force and had not attended a formal course.Her instructors did not have her education and she patronized them. Many incidents in her flying could have disqualified her but the instructors were leaning over backwards to be fair. One day while she was closing the canopy after takeoff on a Harvard, her eyeglasses blew away in the wind (she had obtained a certificate that she could fly even though she was short-sighted) The instructor said to himself: “Now, she is in trouble.” But before he could say a word she whipped out another pair and put it on her nose.

However, one by one the instructors refused to fly with her, Rena was washed out in her final check on the Harvard.

Death of Mordy
When Mordy was a teenager in Tel-Aviv he had problems at home so they sent him to a kibbutz. From there he applied to air cadet course #4 and was accepted.

During the air cadet course, Ospovat, the South African pilot nicknamed the Yellow Cockroach, was flying with a cadet at 3000 feet when they saw a Harvard flown by Mordy and decided to start a dogfight.  During a steep turn, Ospovat’s plane hit Mordy’s plane and cut it in half.  Mordy never got a chance to open his parachute.  Both halves of the plane fell together; he must have either been killed instantly or he was unconscious.  The front part of the plane, with Mordy still strapped to his seat, dived at high speed into the swamp just east of Netanya and was buried deep in the ground.  After months of trying to find him or pieces of the wreckage, the search was abandoned.

Ospovat came to tell me about the incident and said: “Do you know what happens to a man who dives into the ground at 400 kph?”  I thought that was the cruelest thing anybody could have said. Years later, digging the foundation of a building in that area, they found Mordy’s bones in the cockpit, but by that time his parents were dead.

Course #4 air cadets got their wings in August 1951, three weeks after Mordy was killed. With the other cadets of Course #5 we stood for hours in the sun in the morning for rehearsals for the ceremony. It was the peak of the hot season in August. I had low blood pressure and because of weeks of bad nutrition (eating powdered eggs, too little fresh food) I fainted and was taken to the medical clinic. The doctor gave me vitamin injections, and gave me a week off to recover. When I got back, I found that six more cadets were also suffering from weaknesses. At first the doctor thought that my weakness was because I was a girl and also during my period. But when the other six cadets also suffered the same symptoms, the doctor realized that their sickness was a result of malnutrition, so he gave them vitamins.

Harvard – Advanced Phase
In the advanced phase of the course, the Harvards, I was assigned JP the womanizer as my instructor. He got drunk almost every evening. They would find him in the morning lying in the ditches beside the road. I did not know why JP volunteered to instruct me, he never made a pass. However, every time he had a cold or a toothache, other instructors had to replace him.  Finally, I became upset with him and his absences; I was not learning to fly well, so I requested a permanent replacement.

In his youth, JP was homeless, without a family, so he was adopted by a Czech foster family. The mother of the family was the Head of the Czech Immigrant Society, and the daughter was Yael’s girl friend. When I finally got my wings, I ran to JP to tell him, feeling as if he was my father.

After receiving my pilot’s wings, I agreed to sign on for a year, and passed the Consul twin-engine course. I was not selected to go fly on to the Mosquito, but was sent to an instructor course.

Yael – Transport Pilot
After receiving my wings as a military pilot I became a flight instructor when I was still under 20 years of age. When orders came for me to serve as an instructor for Gadna Avir, I objected and said that I was qualified to instruct air force cadets.  One of the officers of the interviewing committee said: “How can they let ‘her’ (not even mentioning me by name) instruct air cadets as future fighter pilots when she has not even flown fighter planes?”.  I answered: “I never flew fighter planes because you did not send me to the Spitfire course.  If you let me complete the Spitfire course, then you can judge me.” In the air-cadet course I had fired machine guns, trained in dogfights, and performed bombing runs the same as everybody else, but the committee told me that their decision was final.

I went to instruct in Gadna Avir for six months and taught officers to fly. I also taught young Gadna members who, after completing their training, joined the air force and became full-fledged pilots.

During one of my periodic evaluations, my commander told me that since I had completed the twin-engine course I should become a transport pilot.  When the time came and they needed transport pilots, a request came through and I was put on the list. The chief of the transport wing did not have any alternative but to accept me.

In May 1952, I was sent to fly Douglas C-47’s, the Dakota workhorse twin-engine transport planes.  A Mosquito pilot, Amnon Bloch, whose plane had disintegrated in the air, was assigned to fly as my co-pilot.  He almost fainted with fear when we landed with a Dakota on only one engine.  After taking off, one of the two engines had failed at 300 feet. There were 25 parachutists on board.  Amnon was inexperienced on the Dakota and was not confident of my ability to bring them back, but I landed and brought everybody back safely.

On another occasion when landing at night, my Dakota had a puncture in the left wheel but I managed to keep the airplane straight on the runway until I completed the landing safely. When I went home two days later, father asked me why I had not told him about the puncture. I do not know how he could have found out, maybe he called the base and asked for me, and they told him about the incident.

Yael flew as captain on the Dakotas during the 1956 Suez campaign and dropped parachutists on the Mitla pass in the Sinai around the clock.
Yael became an educator in the Technion Institute in Haifa and received awards for her work in education for the minorities in Israel.

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