Abigail Klein Leichman
December 27, 2010, Updated September 12, 2012

A gallery of civilian aircraft and flight artifacts from as far back as the Golden Age of aviation joins the rich variety of tourist attractions on offer in Israel.

Fleet Model

Photo by Abigail Leichman.
An intern restores the original logo on the side of a 1929 Fleet Model.

Most days, the sky over Paradive on Habonim Beach south of Haifa is dotted with a colorful canopy of skydivers floating down to land. But not on Tuesdays. That’s when a crew of experts and interns arrives at this aerial reserve to rehabilitate the small vintage aircraft that Paradive owner Dan Mokady has bought or bartered for.

Over the past year, the former Israel Air Force (IAF) deputy squadron commander has amassed one specimen after another, as construction crews begin preparing a 26-foot-high complex to house what will be Israel’s first civilian aircraft gallery.

Dan Mokady

Dan Mokady standing with a MiG-23 he acquired from an American collector in a trade.

Mokady prefers not to refer to his brainchild as a museum. Envisioned as a national tourist center, it will house all manner of objects related to air travel, such as a 1918 wooden propeller, aviation magazines from 1917 to 1928, and even aviator fashions from previous eras. Among these items is a glider designed and built by the late Menachem Bar, a founder of the IAF who began gliding at 16 and didn’t stop until he was 82.

Known as the ‘father of gliding’ in Israel, Bar – a deputy commander of the IAF during the Six Day War, apparently used to allow daredevil civil and military pilots to take off tied to IAF pipers on the base under his command.

However, what will make the structure truly dynamic is a rooftop deck where visitors can dine while watching the restored planes take to the sky at specified times. “Airplanes are meant to fly,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Grounded by sinuses

That is not the case for Mokady himself. Though he piloted A-4, F-4 and F-16 jets during his military service and performed with the IAF aerobatic team, chronic sinus problems grounded him 15 years ago and he no longer feels any pull skyward. Neither he nor his wife, Einat, nor their three daughters skydive, but Einat provides graphic design elements for both enterprises.

When Mokady was about six years old, he “sold” his friends tickets for a transatlantic trip aboard a pretend jetliner. That was his only aviation-related adventure until the Air Force. If he failed to develop a lifelong passion for flying, however, his love for flying machines remains unabated.

Sketch of planned aviation museum

An artist’s sketch of the new aviation museum.

The son of a Six-Day War patrol unit commander killed in battle, Mokady is particularly partial to planes manufactured during the peaceful “Golden Age” of aviation between the world wars.

A tour of the hangar begins with the Fleet Model 1, a two-seat biplane built in 1929. Parked next to it is a 1935 Model 35-70 black Porterfield, one of only six such planes in existence. Bought unfinished from a female American pilot who restores airplanes and violins, it has not taken flight since 1945. Mokady aims to have it airworthy once its original Leblond 70 radial engine is overhauled and its instrument panel – featuring a counterclockwise altimeter quaintly marked “Height” – is reinstalled.

Saving Dorniers from extinction

Two additional Golden Age planes are destined for display only. One is the shell of a 1938 four-seat Fairchild Model 24 monoplane. The other, a prototype 1929 biplane designed by renowned military aviation designer Ed Heinemann, is missing many parts. Mokady intends to finish it and hang it in the gallery.

Fleet Model 1

The Fleet Model 1, a two-seat biplane built in 1929.

His first acquisition, now parked on the runway, was a Dornier 28 B-1. Known as Agurs when they were used in the IAF, these German-made military craft were heading for the scrap heap until Mokady saved them from extinction. In time, he collected seven of them and swapped one for a Russian-made MiG-23 ML.

Getting the heavy iron MiG to Israel from his American trading partner involved great expense and logistical headaches, but eventually its body arrived on a cargo ship aboard a car carrier. “The other parts were in a separate container. Now we’re putting everything together while managing the other projects and building our staff.”

Mokady intends to keep it exhibited outdoors despite maintenance challenges presented by the salty beach air. Eventually it may be joined by replicas of other craft. “Now, as much as I can get them, we will display only originals.”

One Agur with a blue Star of David on its fuselage is the first slated for refurbishment. The remaining five are to be restored to flying condition one at a time. I felt I was saving the species from extinction,” confides Mokady. “My attitude toward Dorniers used to be that they were just obstacles in the sky because they were so slow-flying. But that is an ability I now appreciate.”

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