Israel Defense Forces aviation legend Ran Peker, known as an Israeli flying ace for his downing and dogfighting achievements, died on Saturday at the age of 80. He was laid to rest yesterday afternoon at the Kfar Vitkin cemetery.
Peker, a Brigadier General, served in a variety of military roles, including the commander of Tel Nof Air Base and the 201st Fighter Squadron. His career spanned almost three decades. During his those years, Peker participated in the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the 1967-1970 War of Attrition.
Peker was born and raised in Moshav Kfar Vitkin, about halfway between Tel Avi and Haifi on the Mediterranean coast. He joined the IDF in 1954 and received his wings from Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Beginning his military career as a Spitfire fighter pilot, Pekker was one of the first pilots to fly the new Mirage fighter jets. In 1965, he was appointed commander of the 119 Squadron of Mirage III fighter jets, known as the "Bat" squadron. During the Six-Day War, the squadron under his command downed 19 enemy jets.
Peker was later made commander of the 201st Squadron of F-4 Phantom II fighter jets, known as "The One" squadron. During the War of Attrition, the squadron downed four enemy jets.
Peker served in the IDF until 1980, and was subsequently named Israel's consul general in Los Angeles.
The legendary pilot performed 350 operational flights and downed seven enemy aircraft. He became well-known when, during an aerial photography mission, he was forced to abandon his aircraft after experiencing engine failure. Remarkably, both Peker and the jet survived the ordeal and made a safe return to Israel. The aircraft was even recommissioned for use.
Upon his return to Israel in 1993, he became a businessman and was involved in educational work, including the Zahala project, which he founded to promote youth mentorship.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep sorrow over Peker's passing and said in a statement: "Peker was one of the IAF's top combat pilots. He participated in many dogfights in which he emerged victorious. Ran (Peker) was an Israeli patriot."
President Reuven Rivlin wrote on his Facebook page: "Ran Peker, a flying legend, a defender of Israel from above, a brave warrior. Your memory shall forever be engraved in the heart of the State of Israel."
Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said, "The late Brig. Gen. (res.) Peker was one of the best pilots and commanders the Israeli Air Force has known -- one of those exceptional individuals who laid the foundations for the force's greatness as we know it today -- advanced, of high standards, leading, sophisticated and among the best pilots."
"Ran proved his phenomenal capabilities in a series of operations, missions and battles with extraordinary bravery, while pursuing contact [with enemy jets], downing hostile aircraft and leading his soldiers proudly," Ya'alon further said.
This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by YNet News at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=38517