Israeli War of Independence Pilot Returns to Sky to Celebrate 100th Birthday

Harold ‘Smoky; Simon flying an IAF plane to celebrate his 100th birthday. Photo: YouTube screenshot / Saul Simon.

A former pilot who served in Israel’s War of Independence recently returned to the cockpit of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) plane and took flight to celebrate his 100th birthday.

South African-born Harold “Smoky” Simon, who was the IAF’s first head of air operations, flew around the Sde Te’eman airfield, near Beersheva, for 20 minutes in a vintage Tiger Moth that is considered Israel’s first plane, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

His sons Saul and Dan Simon, also ex- IAF pilots, flew in vintage planes beside him as friends and the rest of his family watched from the ground.

After the flight, he called the experience “incredible” and “absolutely” epic while grinning from ear to ear.

The retired insurance magnate was one of many overseas volunteers, known as “Machalniks,” who made aliyah to Israel in 1948 and fought in the War of Independence, according to the IAF.

“My wife and I were in the first group of South Africans to come to Israel” he told the IAF in a special birthday interview. “We saw the war clouds gathering over Palestine. I was engaged, and my future wife and I decided we would get married and go over to Israel together as volunteers. We arrived on May 9, 1948, and enlisted in the air force the next day.”

Simon, who flew in the South African Air Force during World War II, recalled: “I had the high privilege of being on the first operational flight of the newborn Israeli Air Force. The army asked us to do a reconnaissance flight and to report on the strength of the Jordanian army. This was a very memorable flight because when we took off from Sde Dov airbase, it was Sde Dov Palestine, and when we landed, it was Sde Dov, Israel. That is because, at the very time of our flight, Ben Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel. It was a very historic moment.”

Watch footage of Simon’s 100th birthday flight below:

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