Israel’s Ace of Aces is Giora Epstein. I ran across his story while researching the Doctor Aviation blog on the Yom Kippur War. I share Giora’s story with you.
Giora Even’s Humble Beginnings
Giora was born in the Holy Land in a town named Negba in 1938. This was ten years before Israel became a nation again. He grew up on a kibbutz, or large farm. He loved aviation as a boy and studied flying books. As the Sinai War of 1956 began, Giora joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). He wanted to become a pilot but was rejected due to a heart condition.
So instead, he applied to be a paratrooper. He went on to become an instructor in the field and eventually became a member of the IDF parachute demonstration team while logging over 700 jumps. It was at this time that Giora changed his last name from Epstein to Even, which means stone in Hebrew.
Giora Even’s Road to Flight
After three years of mandatory military service Giora returned to the Kibbutz. His dreams of flying were not done. He returned in 1961 to request admittance to flight school. This time he was not eliminated from flying due to the heart condition but restricted to helicopter flight. He flew helicopters and combat helicopters but yearned to fly fighters.
After gathering evidence from a US Air Force cardiologist, he took his case to Ezer Weizman, the commander of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). He told Weizman that he would not leave the receptionist office until he was allowed to go to fighter training. The next day Weizman gave him the green light
Giora Even: Hawkeye
Giora went on to fly numerous fighters. He quickly earned the nickname Hawkeye as he could reportedly see an enemy aircraft 24 miles away, when the typical pilot could see only 8 miles. It was reminiscent of Chuck Yeager, the American pilot who also possessed legendary eyesight.
Giora Even: The Six Day War (1 Kill)
When the Six Day War began on June 5, 1967. Hawkeye was flying the Mirage III, a French built air interceptor. There was a battle with four Sukhoi-7s. Even jumped on the tail of the fourth Sukhoi 7 and shot it down with a cannon while flying at over 700 knots about 50 feet above the deck.
Giora Even: The War of Attrition (4 Kills)
From September 1967 to August 1970 Egypt along with Jordan and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) launched sporadic attacks against Israel in order to try to regain the Sinai Desert lost in the Six Day War. Egypt intensified the attacks in 1969 and 1970.
During this period of increased intensity in the War of Attrition, Giora claimed four more aerial victories. For all of the victories he was flying the French made Mirage III. On August 20, 1969, he shot down an Egyptian MiG-17 with his cannon. On September 11, 1969, he shot down an Egyptian Sukhoi-7, again with a cannon. On March 25, 1970, his cannons proved true again as he shot down two MiG-21s within seconds on the same mission near the Suez Canal.
Giora Even: The Yom Kippur War (12 Kills)
When the Yom Kippur War began in 1973, Even was initially assigned a headquarters job in Tel Aviv. However, after the headquarters staff filled out, Even quickly rejoined the fighting ranks. On October 18, twelve days after the Egyptian invasion, Even was flying the Mirage III when he spotted an Egyptian Mi-8 helicopter who had just dropped napalm on an Israeli Armored personnel carrier. He shot it down with a cannon over the Great Lake.
The next day, now flying an IAF Nesher (an Israeli derivative of the Mirage V), Hawkeye shot down two Egyptian Sukhoi-7s, one with a missile and one with his cannon. He was about 10 miles from the Suez Canal. That same day, October 19, he boarded his Nesher again, with the same tail number. They engaged 8 to 12 planes. He bagged two Egyptian Sukhoi-20s, one with a missile and one with his cannons. He now had four kills in the same day, on two different missions.
As if the story could not get any bigger, it does. The next day, October 20, 1973, there was a massive dogfight between the Israelis and the Egyptian Air Forces, southwest of the Great Bitter Lake. As each of his wingmen hit “bingo” fuel they had to return to base (RTB). By the end, Giora found himself alone against ten MiGs. By the time the dust had settled, Hawkeye had four kills, all of MiG 21’s, one by missile, three by cannon. He now had 9 kills in 3 days.
As it seemed the war would wind down, Giora thought the action was over, but it wasn’t. The Egyptians planned an ambush against the IAF near the Great bitter Lake. What ensued was the largest dogfight of the Yom Kippur War – Ten Israelis versus 20 Egyptian MiGs. What resulted was three more kills for Hawkeye, all MiG-21s. Bringing his kill total for the war to 12. What’s more is that these 12 kills were amassed over just seven flying days.
Goria Even after the War
Following the War, Goria was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service. He went on to command several fighter squadrons. In 1977 he retired from active duty, but remained a reserve officer and flyer until 1997, when he retired at the age of 59. He finished his career flying the F-16 and accumulated over 5,000 flying hours. His 17 kills earned Hawkeye the title of “Ace of Aces”.