The need for a jet trainer for the Israel Air Force was the moving force behind the decision in the late 1950s to produce the Fouga-Magister. The experience gained from this led to IAI striking out on its own with an Israeli designed and produced aircraft - the Arava short take-off and landing aircraft (STOL), which set the stage for the Company to move into production of IAI-designed commercial and military aircraft. In June 1968, when Levi Eshkol's government gave the green light for the ambitious project, there was in fact a great deal of excitement.The Arava was the first transport that was planned and produced in Israel. On November 27, 1969, the maiden flight took place.
All Arava variants fall into two categories: the civilian '100' series and the military '200' series. The type has sold all around the world to both civilan and military customers, playing such varying roles as maritime surveillance, fire-fighting, intelligence gathering and counterinurgency.
The Arava has a distinctive appearance, consisting of an egg-shaped, pod-like fuselage suspended under a high wing. Tail booms lead aft from the turboprop engine nacelles on each wing, ending in vertical tails connected by a horizontal stabilizer. The constant-chord, strut-braced wing has a high aspect ratio, no sweepback, and only 1 1/2 deg of dihedral. The tail group has double-tapered vertical tails with split rudders (sections above and below the tailboom structure). The horizontal stabilizer and single-piece elevator span the distance between the tailbooms.
Initially the assessment at IAI then was that the civilian aircraft market needed 2,000 short takeoff and landing planes. The aspiration was to bite off at least 20 percent of the market, between 400 and 600 planes. The plan for selling to civilian markets didn't stand a chance. There was no demand for a plane with two jet engines which promised a maximum speed of only 316 miles per hour and a range of only 1,300 kilometers. Once IAI accepted this fact, they turned to the military.
The plane's civilian version was powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-27, and was meant for flying 20 seated passengers or 12 medical evacuees on stretchers. The military version of the plane has a stronger power plant and can carry 24 armed troops, 17 fully equipped paratroopers, or 2.5 tons of cargo. The plane can also be armed with various weapons if necessary.
Heyl Ha'avir also purchased the more advanced model of the Arava, the Arava 202, which is equipped with more powerful engines. The Arava was one of the IAF's principal troop-carrying transports. A popular light transport with Third World units, because of it's forgiving nature in-flight and easy maintenance. The Arava can can land or take off from any flat area. This twin engine turbo-prop plane is able to take a beating and keep on flying.
The Israeli Air Force had been aware of the Arava for a long time before the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Taking a rare and odd stance, the IAF claimed that fostering the local aircraft industry was not one of its missions and was distinctly cool about the type. In the Yom Kippur War, several 'Arava 201' planes were conscripted by the IAF for transport missions in the Sinai. When war broke out on October 6th, 1973, the IAF commandeered from IAI the Arava 102 prototype and two 201 military examples built for a foreign customer. Serving mainly in the Sinai, the three aircraft proved to be of tremendous value.
In the 1970s, after aggressive marketing campaigns, a decrease in prices and improved payment plans, IAI succeeded in selling about 70 Aravas in South America. In the early 1980's, a number of Arava planes entered service with the IAF, and carried out transport, instructional and operational assignments. Nine Arava planes joined the air force fleet at the end of 1983. The air force chose to purchase the Israeli aircraft with American aid money. After 'Peace for the Galilee', the planes were employed for carrying troops between Lebanon and Israel. These flights made use of the Arava's ability to land on short, rough airstrips.
In 2004, Dan Halutz, then commander of the air force, decided to send the plane into retirement. By 2008 the historic planes that opened the first chapter in the history of Israeli aviation were covered in dust and looked like wretched heaps of metal. Three Arava aircraft, representing the waning of a pioneering dream, were cast away at the edges of the Sde Dov air force base at Tel Aviv. the ambitious plans for marketing hundreds of planes led to huge losses and the production of just 103 aircraft, which had a hard time finding buyers.
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