In a 1995 landmark case the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against a standing Israel Air Force (IAF) ban on female pilots. The case, brought by 23-year-old Alice Miller, paved the way for women to train as combat aviators. The IAF is now actively seeking to recruit more women to its fighter pilot course and believers, too, have answered this call.
No formal reasons were given for the previous ban on female pilots although military and government officials were reportedly concerned about women being taken captive and raped. In an illustration of the current mindset, however, IAF Head of the Personnel Directorate, Brig.-Gen Nathan, told the Jerusalem Post last month: “A plane doesn’t care if it’s a woman or a man flying it. The Air Force wants the best of the best.”
Kehila News Israel (KNI) received confirmation of this search for excellence through Ayelet (her real name cannot be given for security reasons), a young Messianic woman who recently participated in the fighter pilot course.
“It’s amazing how much time and effort the IAF puts into people to bring out the best possible pilots. Even if you don’t succeed, you know that they are looking for the best of the best they can get,” Ayelet said.
Indeed, Ayelet attests, the demand for excellence was the most challenging aspect of the course.
“They want your best in every single part of your life – whether it’s as a pilot or in the physical training, whether it’s in the way you act and speak, or in your personal integrity – they want you to give your best 100 percent of the time,” she said.
There were 263 candidates in Ayelet’s pilot course, of which only 13 were women and 250 men. Out of these only 30 would finish. Ayelet herself did not complete the course.
“I had to leave, but it was not of my own will,” Ayelet shared. “We had to do very intensive flight tests which demanded a lot of hard work. After 10 flights, I was told, together with others, that we had not made the grade and would not be continuing. This was the stage at which most people leave.”
“It’s very interesting that even if you are a really good pilot, but are not great, are not excellent, you cannot continue,” Ayelet reflected.
Even though only 48 women have completed the pilot course since 1995, Ayelet also confirmed the IAF is working to encourage women to join.
“Before the course, I had gone to an IAF conference of 200 girls where they tried to motivate us to sign up,” she said.
By way of incentive the Israeli Air Force has determined to offer top jobs even to those who don’t complete the course and to promote female officers to high ranking positions. Indeed, in November last year, the IAF appointed its first female pilot to the position of deputy commander of a combat squadron.
Despite the active recruitment of women, Ayelet said the female candidates were treated exactly the same as the men once on the course.
“There was no difference between us in what we had to do. They won’t lower the standard and the standard is very high,” she said. “The best part of the course was the flying itself but I really liked the fact did exactly the same training as the men and the same standards were demanded of me.”
Nathan summarized the Air Force’s reasons for actively recruiting women as well.
“Our decision to encourage more women to join the course is from operational needs; they can improve the flight school and the entire corps,” he said. “The Air Force needs the best and smartest people to fly on the most advanced platforms. There are no gender issues when flying.”