It is one of the busiest units of the Israeli air force – busy and classified, for very good reasons.
All the aircraft operated by the air force have been upgraded during their service life, with numerous systems and add-ons.
Before a new system is installed, it undergoes a series of rigorous tests at the air force’s Flight Test Center, at the Tel Nof airbase. Flight testing engineers check the systems in the air and on the ground following a rigorous testing process.
The challenges facing the soldiers at the centre are not the standard threats operational squadrons face. It is not a squadron that has to cross borders, manoeuvre on the northern front, or deal with surface-to-air missiles. The challenge is to examine the systems that are about to enter service with the air force, push the envelope and learn about every possible outcome before there is even the smallest indication.
A test pilot and a flight test engineer are responsible for every experiment. The testing team decides how it will examine the system and designs a testing plan that includes different flight scenarios and, of course, emphasises safety. Before the flying phase, the team analyses the risks in the scenarios with which the system will have to contend. Afterwards, the team reaches the “moment of truth” – the flight and system testing phase.
According to the Israeli air force website, the experts at the centre are selected from among the best in their fields. They then go through a special instruction period that aims to sharpen the especial requirements of the unit.
As the systems and add-ons fitted to the aircraft are not always standard, and since in many cases the modifications have to be made in no time, the expertise of the team must be honed to the highest standards.
Some of the most daring combat operations the Israeli air force has conducted have been made possible by the expertise and “boundaries stretching” of the unit.