It was December of 1998. A short-term, volunteer, labour conscript attired as usual in Tzahal (צה״ל) / Israel Defense Forces) fatigues was chipping paint from an external side of a large, corrugated, metal building at the Tzahal’s Julis base, a former British Army artillery base, on a cloudless morning. A loud noise, instantly recognisable as the sound of a turbojet engine, caused him to glance skyward into the azure sky. His eyes beheld the awesome sight of a Kheil HaAvir (חֵיל הָאֲוִיר / ‘Air Corps’) ‘Netz‘ at extremely low altitude and in a tight bank. The ‘Netz‘ (a General Dynamics F-16C or F-16D ‘Fighting Falcon’) fighter-bomber, likely from the Kheil HaAvir’s Hatzor airbase (which was previously British Royal Air Force Base Qastina) or conceivably Tel Nof (the ex-British Royal Air Force Base Aqir) was so close to the ground that the labourer could readily see the helmeted pilot’s head and hands moving inside the cockpit. Wind direction changed little throughout the day and the young man tasked with repainting the metallic structure was treated to many Netz minimum-altitude overflights as the aviators exercised over the nearby plains. Immediately upon seeing the sleek planes the legendary Giora Epstein, the world’s ‘Ace of Aces’, who had retired from active military duty only the previous year, came to mind. Epstein ended his air force career as a Netz driver. Then-Aluf mishne (אלוף משנה / colonel) Epstein’s boyhood home of Kibbutz Negba is adjacent to Julis.
Giora Epstein is the author of the 2020 autobiography titled ‘Hawkeye: The Enthralling Autobiography of the Top-Scoring Israel Air Force Ace of Aces‘. Giora Epstein is quite a man, and the book is a testament to his determination to not allow a diagnosed physical imperfection block his dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. His extraordinary accomplishments in the air are thoroughly detailed. ‘Hawkeye’ also records the author’s personal thoughts and emotions as he fought physicians, short-sighted bureaucrats, and jealous colleagues to realise his dreams and attain personal goals as a Dessault ‘Shahak‘ (Mirage III), Israeli Aircraft Industries ‘Nesher‘ (an Israeli-manufactured version of France’s Dessault Mirage V), and General Dynamics Netz pilot.
First World War German ace pilot Freiherr Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918), known in English as ‘Baron von Richthofen’, recorded three truisms: “The quality of the box [aeroplane] matters little. Success depends upon the man [pilot] who sits in it.” Richthofen also wrote that, “Success flourishes only in perseverance ceaseless, restless perseverance” and the “aggressive spirit, the offensive, is the chief thing everywhere in war, and the air is no exception.” Giora Epstein reached the same conclusion and makes a similar statement. Epstein eventually attained the moniker of ‘Ace of Aces’, and he and his highly-trained Israeli fighter pilot colleagues’ exploits made the Mirage III-C, which was originally conceived by the aircraft’s French designers as a high altitude bomber interceptor, proved that the turbojet fighter could effectively dogfight. After Israel’s amazing success with the Mirage III the type became a much-desired airplane around the world.
In 2018, at the age of 80 years, Giora Epstein was to the rank of Tat aluf (תת-אלוף / brigadier-general) in what is now termed the Zroa HaAvir VeHahalal (זְרוֹעַ הָאֲוִיר וְהֶחָלָל / ‘Air and Space Arm’). After promotion he stated the following: “After many struggles, I became a certified air force pilot. Fortunately, I was able to fulfil my expectations and abilities as expected from a fighter pilot. I would like to thank the IDF and especially Israel Air Force for the wonderful years in service and the great satisfaction they have given me.”
Giora Epstein will continue to inspire through ‘Hawkeye’. His story represents a narrative of triumph over bureaucracy and the short-sightedness of persons in positions of authority. With Epstein’s autobiography in print, individuals throughout the world can now learn about his extraordinary legacy. Renowned aviation artist Roy Grinnell created the cover illustration for ‘Hawkeye’ and both Giora Epstein-signed and unsigned prints are available. Interested readers should click on the following link: Roy Grinnell Art.