‘Father of IAF’ Al Schwimmer, 94

Schwimmer, known as the father of the Israel Air Force, was head of the Aerospace Industry for its first 24 years.

Tags: Air Force
Gil Ronen , | updated: 9:41 PM

Al Schwimmer
Al Schwimmer
Wikimedia Commons

Al Schwimmer, 94, hero of Israel`s fight for independence, has died. Schwimmer, originally an American citizen, was the first director of the Israel Aerospace Industry. He sat at the cockpit of the IAI for 24 years. 

He was among the founders of the Aeronautics Department of the Technion technological college and served two terms as Advisor to the Prime Minister on Technology and Industry.

He received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement on Independence Day in 2006.

Schwimmer was convicted in 1950 of violating the US Neutrality Act for smuggling aircraft into Israel during the War of Independence. He was pardoned in 2000 by then US President Bill Clinton.

Schwimmer had enlisted the aid of his friend, businessman Charles Winters, who had bought decommissioned military cargo planes to transport fruits and vegetables. The two managed to smuggle three B-17 bombers to Israel, flying them from Miami, to Puerto Rico, then over the Azores to Czechoslovakia.

The three bombers were the only heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force during the war, and were reportedly essential in turning the tide of war in Israel's favor.

Winters was subsequently prosecuted by the U.S. for violating the Neutrality Act of 1939. He was found guilty and spent 18 months in prison. Another man in the operation, Herman Greenspun, was convicted but received no prison time, and was pardoned in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.

A significant portion of IDF forces during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, like Schwimmer and Winters, were volunteers hailing from English-speaking countries.