Interview with Avrahm Salmon

 

Biography

Avraham Salmon (1942-) is a legendary combat jet pilot in the Israeli Air Force (IAF). He retired as Lt. Colonel, and is known as the IAF’s second-highest scoring “ace,” with 14.5 “kills” to his credit. 

Salmon was born in Jerusalem, the youngest in a family of six children, part of a well-known Rabbinical family.  He was drafted into the IAF as a flying cadet and received his wings as combat pilot in 1961.  He served first on a Myster squadron before becoming a Mirage IIIC pilot, the top flying machine of the IAF at the time. During the crisis and war of 1967 he served in squadron 119, one of the IAF’s three top Mirage squadrons. 

On May 17, 1967, while deployed in the new air-field of Hatzerim, Captain Salmon and a colleague scrambled to intercept an invading, high-altitude Egyptian MiG 21 flying over Dimona.  His testimony for this collection is about this encounter.

In July 1970, during the “War of Attrition”, Salmon was among the top Israeli pilots handpicked to be part of the “Pomegranate 20” operation, an aerial battle that pitted the Israeli Air Force directly against Soviet fighter pilots stationed in Egypt.  In that fight, Salmon shot down 1.5 Soviet Migs – the half being a shared kill with another pilot. He shot down a total of 5.5 from February to July 1970.   

Later, Salmon served as a squadron commander in the IAF flight-school. In 1971, he was discharged from active duty in the IAF and became a pilot in Israel’s national airline, El Al.  During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, as a reserve pilot, Salmon shot down 4 enemy fighters.  He continued to serve as an IAF combat pilot and flying instructor for many years along with his day job as a Captain in El Al.    

Lt. Colonel Salmon is married and father to two daughters and lives outside of Tel Aviv. 

This interview with Colonel Avraham Salmon was conducted by Yechezkel (Hezi) Shmueli, an Israeli journalist, teacher, and researcher on the history of the IAF.

Interview Notes by Avner Cohen

We asked Lt. Col. (ret) Salmon to provide an oral testimony of an aerial encounter with high-altitude Egyptian MiG 21s over the Dimona nuclear complex on May 17, 1967. The interview was held almost exactly fifty years later, in early May 2017, at Salman’s home outside Tel Aviv.  The interviewer was Mr. Yechezkel (“Hezi”) Shmueli, an Israeli journalist, educator and researcher on the history of the Israeli Air Force (IAF).

In May 1967, Salmon was a captain in the air force, less than a year after being certified as a Mirage III pilot in IAF Squadron 119.  Due to the unfolding crisis, four Mirages from his squadron were mobilized to the newly built southern air force base in Hatzerim – just a few miles west of Beer Sheba-- for an alert deployment to protect the south.[1]

Salmon describes the encounter of May 17 as a non-event.[2]  As the air controller informed him that the altitude of the invading MiGs was 60,000 feet, he realized that there was no chance to intercept them at Mach 2. Climbing to that altitude alone, Salmon says, it would have taken him nearly 12 minutes.  In that time, the enemy plane could easily pass over 200 kilometers.  He instead returned to base.[3]

What was interesting, however, was the very unusual and deceptive route of the invading MiGs. They took off from Hurghada IAP on the Red Sea, flew east-north towards Saudi Arabia as if they were commercial aircrafts. Then, turning north along the Saudi coast into Jordan, they climbed to over 50,000 feet and, near Petra, turned west and north into the Negev, via Dimona from south-east, and back to the Sinai.  They crossed those 70-80 kilometers of the Negev in about 5-7 minutes.  



[1] Hatzerim AFB was just completed months earlier and was to become the new home of IAF flying school

[2] According to Salmon, the most remarkable feature of the event was his and his colleague’s response time: 53 seconds from hearing the siren to flying with his landing gear up.

[3] In his book, Like a Bolt out of the Blue, Israeli aviation researcher Danny Shalom confirms Salmon’s testimony, identifying the Egyptian jets as MiG 21Rs, the reconnaissance version of the MiG 21. According to Shalom the Egyptians were flying at over 50,000 feet at a speed of Mach 1.7-2.0.