The Flying Camels—the Israeli air force's oldest flying unit—specialize in visual intelligence. The Zofit (Hummingbird) has a 6.5-hr. endurance at a speed of 240 kt. and an operational altitude of 25,000 ft. They are similar to the King Air 350s that for the last decade have equipped many of the U.S. Air Force and Army's intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance special missions units operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Camels' King Airs carry an Elbit-built advanced multi-sensor payloads system (AMPS), a joint development of the Elop and Ness companies. It affords them multispectral, day-night surveillance at standoff ranges. The AMPS turret provides four sensors that can offer simultaneous displays to the onboard crew of five (two pilots, two sensor specialists and a mission commander).
“You can see the pictures from all four cameras at once,” says Capt. N, who operates in the recording center, a one-year-old simulation training facility to train and refresh aircrews.
He notes the advantages of multi-spectral sensor arrays, simultaneous displays and real-time communications. The human eye differentiates black-and-white images more easily, but color provides additional information. The starlight scope and infrared sensors provide wide-angle data at night for orientation, and thermal shapes for monitoring movement.
In addition, the aircrews and ground-based analysts include army troops assigned to the air force that are familiar with close support techniques, key nomenclature and specialized communications used to support Army operations.
“Some of the aerial scouts belong to the air force and some to the intelligence corps,” says O. “They operate the electro-optical systems. The [blue] scouts formerly specialized in anti-aircraft sites and things of interest to the air force, while the green scouts were more into tanks and ground operations. Now everyone does everything. Most of it is not done automatically. You still need the scouts to analyze the picture [in real time], understand what we are looking at and figure out what is going on for both ground and maritime targets of interest.”
As needed, the 135 Sqdn. supplies signals-intelligence data and overlays for the surveillance.
“Whatever you read about—and obviously a lot of things you have not read about—we were there,” O says. “We gather intel before, then accompany the operation and then do bomb-damage assessment afterward. We'll acquire the target, guide the attacker and provide an assessment of whether [the attack] was successful. We're also looking for patterns in all sorts of data.”
The newest aircraft in the squadron are A-36 Bonanzas that fly with a single pilot and two observers who use binoculars and still cameras for high-resolution, low-altitude (around 1,000-ft.) surveillance, particularly of smugglers and raiders moving through the immediate area of the border. The Bonanza is appreciated for its all-around visibility and is primarily used to provide imagery and border oversight.