Above & Beyond: Volunteer Pilots Fight for Israel

By Scott Spangler on September 21st, 2015
Trailer for Above and Beyond.

Wandering through the recently added titles to Netflix’s “watch now” films the other night, I came across Above and Beyond, a documentary about the birth of what became the Israeli Air Force during the nation’s 1948 fight for survival. (It’s also available on-demand and through iTunes.)

And that’s about all I knew about this chapter of aviation history. But after watching this comprehensive recounting of events, including interviews with the surviving aviators, my initial reaction was, Why haven’t we heard more about this! It is a story far more compelling than the American Volunteer Group (AVG) that fought, as the Flying Tigers, for the Chinese early in World War II.

The AVG had the wink-and-nod support of the U.S. Government. The American volunteer pilots, ground crews, and others who volunteered to fight for Israel not only risked their lives, their U.S. citizenship was also on the line. Al Schwimmer (that’s him, left), the American businessman who bought surplus U.S. C-46 cargo planes, among others, and illegally hopscotched them around the world to Israel, lost his. Staying in Israel, he founded Israel Aircraft Industries, and in 2001, President Clinton pardoned him.

Most of the U.S. volunteer pilots, like Milton Rubenfield, father of the actor we know at Paul Rubens (nee Pee-wee Herman)  were Jewish, but a number of them were not. And irony does not begin to describe their first fighter aircraft, Czech-built Messerschmitt Bf-109 with engines coming from a variety of aircraft described only as “bombers.” Later, they replaced them with Spitfires, and a surplus B-17 was its bomber.

The nascent Israeli Air Force was small, but it made a difference. It’s a compelling story too long overlooked, and as a documentary, Above and Beyond sets a new standard of excellence. And some of its best parts are the interviews with the pilots who risked it all. Now in the deep winter of their lives, they all still possess—and exhibit—the self-confident swagger that led them to volunteer for what many in 1948 was sure to be a lost cause. I may watch it again tonight. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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3 Responses to “Above & Beyond: Volunteer Pilots Fight for Israel”

  1. R. Loomis Says:

    I stumbled upon ‘Above and Beyond’ about two weeks ago while poking around Netflix for new content. Almost passed on it but always a sucker for anything aviation, I book marked it. Late the next evening I took a peek but but two hours later after watching this wonderful documentary, I sat stunned at the magnitude of what these few men had accomplished and that two hours previous I had been completely ignorant of this fascinating piece of history. Thanks for spreading the word. R

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    And to think you found it through good old Jetwhine. Thanks for that note.

  3. Jay Says:

    Thanks so much for the suggestion! I hadn’t heard about it until I found it mentioned in your blog post. It was mesmerized by this amazing story.

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