Israeli helicopter squadrons trained in Greece over the past two weeks and practiced landing on mountains – including Mount Olympus, the country’s highest elevation.
The helicopters, Sikorsky CH-53s and UH-60 Black Hawks, known in the Israeli miltiary as "Yasour" and "Yanshuf" respectively, returned to Israel on Thursday after the joint exercise – the kind of drill Israel used to do in Turkey before relations between the two countries soured.
The air force sent twice the number of crews needed to fly to Greece to give many crew members the chance to train under different conditions. Israeli Hercules transport planes and Beechcraft King Air light planes also took part.
The flight to Greece was a long one for the helicopters, about seven hours. Lt. Col. Gilad, the 124th Squadron commander whose last name may not be revealed, said the conditions were special.
“These are field conditions that we don’t run into in Israel,” the officer said. “We only have Mount Hermon, and there are mountains there that simulate countries where maybe we’ll land someday.”
The air force’s cooperation with the Greeks is extensive; Israelis, for example, take part in the Greek air force’s annual exercise. A senior Israeli officer described the cooperation as “strategic” and said the two countries had “shared interests – military and economic.”
In the past, Turkey was where Israeli pilots would practice encountering unknown territory.
“Without a doubt, this is a change from what we did at the time in Turkey, where I remember spending a lot of time a decade ago,” Gilad said. “From our perspective, this was an excellent exercise – it expands our operational capabilities and makes us deal with things we don’t deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
During this month’s exercise, a Greek helicopter crashed.
In recent years, the Israeli air force has practiced flying in mountainous areas in other countries. In Romania in 2010, an Israeli CH-53 crashed in the Carpathian Mountains, killing all six Israeli crew members and a Romanian officer.