Israel Air Force Welcomes 'Samson' to Fleet

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- While talk of politics and peace talks lead some to question the U.S.-Israel relationship, the delivery of a new Hercules cargo plane highlights the strong military ties between the two countries.

Top U.S. and Israeli officials greeted the first of six U.S.-made transport aircraft sold to Israel as it landed at the Nevatim Air Force base, in Israel's southern Negev Desert. The deal is seen as a milestone in U.S.-Israel relations.

"The new capability will extend the long arm of the Israeli Air Force," Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said.

The C-130 has been around since the 1950s. But this newer model can fly higher and is bigger, faster, and quieter. It can fly 4,000 miles without refueling. That's like flying from Canada to Israel or nearly four times the distance from Israel to Iran.

Eshel calls it the best plane of its kind.

"It will be able to operate long ranges, variety of missions, day and night, all weather. All type of joint operations with other special forces in the Israeli Defense Forces," Eshel said.

Almost 40 years ago, Israeli commandos used an older C-130 as part of the raid on Uganda's Entebbe Airport to rescue hostages from a hijacked Air France flight.

"Traveling over 2,500 miles at low altitude under cover of complete darkness it was Israeli C-130s Hercules aircraft that brought the commandos to the fight and delivered the hostages from peril to freedom," U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said during a welcoming ceremony.

Dubbed the Super Hercules, Israel named its new C-130-J after the biblical hero Samson, or Shimshon in Hebrew.

Shapiro called the name fitting.

"More than 3,000 years ago Shimshon became a judge for Israel, renowned for his cleverness, wisdom, fearlessness, and above all his strength," Shapiro said.

"These three qualities epitomize the Israeli Air Force -- clever technological innovations, wise and judicious use of force, calm in the face of adversity and valor, bravery combined with compassion," he added.

CBN News received an inside look at the aircraft. Lt. Col "A," whose identity we've hidden for security reasons, flew this first plane to Israel.

"It's better than what I ever flew," Lt. Col "A" said. "It has a lot more capabilities, a lot more possibilities of being precise and safe on missions."

Developed by Lockheed Martin in the United States, Israel customized its aircraft with some special systems.

"With all the Israeli systems in it it will out-perform any C-130-J in the world, I think, and give the Israeli Air Force and the IDF better possibilities and advantages in all its challenges," Lt. Col. "A" told CBN News.

American chief test pilot Wayne Roberts said they're pleased to have the plane in the Israeli Air Force.

"It's really neat to be a part of it. The crew worked together and they just really did a great job and it was really fun to work with them," Roberts said.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Middle East Bureau

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