> our title:

Israel Marks 20 Years of Its Large UAV Squadron

> original title:

"First Zik" Marks 20 Years

(Source: Israeli Air Force; issued Feb 13, 2019)

It operates two different platforms in parallel, constantly evolves technologically and is considered the RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) Division's largest squadron. This week, the "First Zik" Squadron marks 20 years of activity

This week, the "First Zik" Squadron marks 20 years of activity. The squadron is currently the largest squadron in the IAF RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle) Division, home to dozens of RPAV operators - before Sde-Dov AFB's light transport squadrons were unified one month ago, the "First Zik" Squadron was the largest in the force.

The squadron operates two different aircraft: the "Zik" (Hermes 450) and "Kochav" (Hermes 900) RPAVs. The "Kochav", which was certified FOC (Full Operational Capability) just one year ago, has already begun taking a significant part in the force's activity. The two aircraft put the squadron at first place in terms of operational flight hours.

Emergency As Routine

"The squadron was first established sometime in the 1990s. In the beginning, it was only meant to operate during emergency scenarios and not during routine", said Lt. Col. S', the squadron commander.

Years later, the force's service members realized the RPAVs' great potential. They are precise, available, capable of staying in the air for long periods of time, and most importantly – they don't risk human lives. "As soon as we realized this, there was no war, operation or activity that the squadron didn't partake in", said Lt. Col. S'. "Operation in emergency became routine".

The fact that the squadron was the first in the force to utilize the "Zik" made it groundbreaking in the field of RPAVs. "The 'Zik' can perform a wide variety of various missions, but as the battlefield changes, so does our activity", elaborated Lt. Col. S'. The squadron was divided into two in 2013, branching off into the "First Zik" Squadron and the "Black Snake" Squadron, which operates the aircraft as well.

"Operating two different aircraft at the same time is a complex mission", said Lt. Col. S'. "The missions may be identical, but the complexity is felt in qualification and maintenance. In the past, operators would arrive at the squadron with specific skillsets for a specific aircraft, while nowadays, operators arriving from the RPAV Academy are already familiar with both platforms".

Rising Star

The "Kochav" aircraft was certified FOC just one year ago following diligent work performed by the squadron's service members. The personnel were chosen ahead of time and transferred from other squadrons, which meant that everyone involved was an experienced professional. The crew had to be prepared for any scenario, even though it hadn't been operational until just a short while earlier.

"It was Saturday – I was at home when suddenly I was notified regarding an operational event. Without thinking twice, I put on my uniform and drove to the base", recalled Capt. A'. "When arriving at the squadron, the first thought that went through my head was how my crew and I could help. We quickly put on our technician suits and got to work". Besides handling operational events, the squadron continued integrating new systems meant to improve their capabilities, as well as performing exercises on the ground and in the air in order to maintain the crews' readiness level.

"In the future, we are due to integrate a new kind of HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) for the 'Kochav', which is considered a fifth-generation RPAV in the IAF. The infrastructure will be incredible, which will further improve our missions".

"This effort will make the squadron a leading force in the field of RPAVs", expects Lt. Col. S'. "The 'Kochav' is due to be the division's backbone".

Always Connected

Besides the squadron's technological advancements over the past years, it continues to operate in all theatres at all times. "During the last bout of warfare, we helped in surveillance ahead of strikes on Hamas members and saw how our activity prevented rockets from being fired at Israel", said Lt. Col. S'.

The squadron took part in a wide range of operational activity over the past year. "Sometimes you don't need to follow the news in order to understand that something's happening", added Lt. Col. S'. "Sometimes, when I'm in the control station during an emergency, I can actually hear a siren coming through the phone from the brigade's side, all while seeing where the rocket was launched from on the cameras. You hear the pressure, the pain and the worry in the air, but this doesn't prevent the operating forces from being precise and professional. We are always connected".

The squadron is now marking 20 years of activity. "Professionalism, initiative and fellowship – these are the three words we can use to sum up the past 20 years", concluded Lt. Col. S'. "It's amazing how so many people are a part of the squadron, which is like a family. Even though many of them have moved onto other squadrons, they never forget the 'First Zik' – it's like a home, and always will be".