"The weather will probably smile on us. It's a big celebration, and we're excited. Everything's getting polished," said Lt. Col. Yotam, head of the Israeli Air Force's Golden Eagle Squadron. With two new F-35 stealth jets due to arrive in Israel on Monday, Yotam is due to make history as the first Israeli pilot to fly the jet. Referring to the F-35's maiden IDF flight, Yotam said, "Without singing my own praises, let's just say they got the best."
The first flight should take place on Tuesday and will last about 40 minutes, as the plane will make its way over the south of the country. "The American pilots flying it over told us everything was working fine," said Yotam, whose recent days have been spent going through possible scenarios with the plane. "So far, it's all been virtual, but that's how we make sure that the timetables are synchronized, that the communications equipment is up and running. It's a final trial run for our tools, so nothing will surprise us."
The two F-35s are to be greeted, according to the IDF, in a ceremony said to be so grand that Israel has not seen such an affair since the IAF received F-15s 40 years ago. Held at Tel Nof, the ceremony is to include the F-35s flying over the crowds before landing, when, senior IDF officers will set the IAF insignia on the planes as a symbolic act of the aircraft joining the IDF.
Criticism has been lobbed at the purchase of the sophisticated new planes. Its high price ($80 to $90 million per plane) relative to the advanced F-16 warplanes, its flight range and its limited ability to fly undetected by enemy radar were all critiqued.
Twenty-five-year-old Capt. Guy, who will also fly one of the F-35s, will become the youngest pilot in the IDF and one of the youngest to fly what is considered by many to be the most advanced plane in the world. Despite these honors, Guy's voice and demeanor did not reveal much excitement. "I felt satisfaction when I was told I had been selected to be in the squadron," he said. "We didn't undergo any tests, but there were special discussions on the matter, a selection process and recommendations from the squadron commanders in which I had recently served." He did express an interest in the position, however, saying, "Of course I had expectations and had calculated my chances of being accepted."