117 Squadron - The First Jet
Israel established the 117 squadron in June of 1953, and it was the first squadron to operate several variants of the Meteor jet, including the T.7 and F.8. The 117 squadron saw its first combat action in September 1955 when two Meteor jets shot down a pair of Egyptian Vampire aircraft in the Negev desert. The 117 also took part in C-47 escort missions as well as a number of air to ground attacks. In February 1962, the squadron was temporarily disbanded and its Meteor jets were transferred to the 110 squadron.
In April 1962, the 117 squadron was reformed and began flying the Mirage IIICJ. During the Six Day War, the 117 squadron destroyed twelve Egyptian aircraft while losing only three. In the War of Attrition, the 117 squadron lost five aircraft while logging 101 kills. By the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel had begun replacing the Mirage aircraft with the IAI Nesher, both of which were replaced by the Kfir C-1 and the F-15 between 1975 and 1976.
In 1981, eight F-16A aircraft from the 117 squadron took part in a successful mission that destroyed a nuclear facility near Baghdad, Iraq. Through the 1982 Lebanon invasion, Israeli F-16s conducted a number of attacks against Syrian MiGs, reporting 80 kills and thirteen losses. The 117 squadron was upgraded to F-16C and F-16D variant aircraft in 1987, with the older F-16 variants being assigned to other squadrons. As of 2005, the 117 squadron flew exclusively F-16C aircraft.
The decision to shutter the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) oldest F-16 squadron came as a direct result of the military’s large-scale, multi-year “Momentum” plan, which seeks to enhance the lethality of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and signals a targeted focus on Iran. The IDF revealed 13 May 2020 that IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin has moved to close the 117th First Jet Squadron in October as the IDF continues the rollout of its ambitious, expensive, multi-year plan, which was launched back in February.
“Under the multi-year ‘Momentum’ Plan, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi made a series of decisions geared toward internal efficiencies and cutting back old systems, alongside the acquiring and development of new systems,” read the IDF statement obtained by the Times of Israel. “As part of these decisions, the chief of staff decided to close a fighter jet squadron.” Norkin notified commanders of the 117th Squadron after arriving at his decision on 12 May 2020. “The squadron will continue to serve operationally and in training until the moment it is closed,” the statement noted.
The IDF expressed that by closing the F-16 squadron, the military will be able to funnel funds into fifth-generation aircraft - particularly the F-35I Adir stealth fighter jets recently purchased from Washington.
October will mark the end of the 117th Squadron’s 67-year run, which began in 1953 and included in every major war in the country’s history, according to the Times of Israel.
“The squadron was the first in the world to shoot down an enemy plane with an F-16 [in 1981], and the first in the world to shoot down a MiG-23 [in 1982],” the Israeli military detailed. The F-16 squadron was notably involved in “Operation Opera,” the controversial 1981 airstrike conducted by the IAF on an Iraqi nuclear reactor during its construction phase. However, Norkin noted that the extent of the 117th Squadron’s “glorious heritage” is not fully known by the public, as its legacy included a number of classified operations. Israeli Air Force F-16A Netz '243', aircraft flown by Colonel Ilan Ramon in Operation Opera. This was the eighth and last to drop its bombs onto the reactor.
The IAF commander expressed that as the Momentum Plan is carried out, the IAF “will become more streamlined and continue to develop relevant and influential aerial forces.”