Rayak Air Base
|Rayak Air Base
قاعدة رياق الجوية
|IATA: none – ICAO: OLRA|
|Owner||Lebanese Armed Forces|
|Operator||Lebanese Air Force|
|Elevation AMSL||3,018 ft / 920 m|
Rayak Air Base (Arabic: قاعدة رياق الجوية Kaidat Rayak al-jawiya) (ICAO: OLRA) is Lebanon's first air base and the place where the Lebanese Air Force was born on June 1, 1949. Located in the middle of the Bekaa Valley to the east, between the towns of Zahlé and Anjar, it symbolizes the Lebanese Air Force best and home for most of the aircraft types that have seen service and the final resting place for almost all retiring planes.
The airbase was built before Lebanon's independence, and has been in use since 1914 by various foreign forces such as the German, Ottoman, British and the French.
Rayak Air Base was constructed and used by the Germans in World War I. After the allies took hold of this base, they enlarged it and the French aviation in addition to flight specialists started training a number of Lebanese personnel on aircraft mechanics. On August 1, 1945, Lebanon took hold of its army together with the Battalion of the first airbase (Rayak).
During the French Mandate of Lebanon, Rayak Air base was considered to be the "jewel" of the Air bases and the centre of attraction of all other military units, not only in Lebanon but also in mandated Syria and all the Near East. The base had many entertainment facilities, luxuries, flowering gardens, and central heating, which at that time were not found in military sites elsewhere in the region.
The French Air Force evacuated the base in 1949, and it was abandoned for a long time, which contributed in turning it into a miserable condition, especially after being looted by its own guards. The army command later decided to rebuild the air base, a reconstruction that took two months and which included the construction of new buildings and infrastructure.
The first officers assigned to the base were:
- Deputy Commander Lt. Ahmad Arab
- Administrative officer Antranik Tatoussian
- Service battalion officer Victor Charles
Recruitment started with one hundred personnel, many of whom already had experience with the French. The first course students' included:
- Lt. Ali Abboud
- Sergeant John Ayoub
- Sergeant Izat Hariri
- Civil pilot Hassan Badawi
- Civil pilot René Abdallah
- Civil pilot Michel Nawfal or Michel Naufal
- Civil pilot Emil Succar
An administration building, several hangars (most of these built during the French Mandate of Lebanon), a control tower, officers club, houses, parachutes tower, barracks, and workshops make up the airport. In addition, both runways are equipped with Low Intensity Runway Lights (LIRL) lighting system.
Aviation School & Technical School
The Lebanese Air Force Technical school is also located at Rayak Air Base, its goal is to qualify technicians for the whole air force.
The base is home to the only flight simulator in the Lebanese Military. A new facility housing a UH-1 Helicopter simulator from the US military is now being used to train future Lebanese pilots.
Lebanon Air Force Museum
Rayak Air Base is also home to the Lebanese Air Force Museum, as it contains all of the old aircraft and the majority of grounded aircraft. The museum is not open to public, however, and visitors must obtain permission to visit from air force authorities.
The museum displays:
- de Havilland Vampire T55
- Hawker Hunter F6
- Sud Aviation SE3130 Alouette II
- Sud Aviation SA316B Alouette III
- Agusta Bell AB212
- Fouga CM170 Magister
- Aerospatiale SA342L Gazelle
The museum comprises one hangar and is intended to become a public museum in the future.
Lebanon's Hawker Hunter jets, much like the rest of its grounded fixed-wing jets, are stored at Rayak. In 2007 the LAF begun the process of restoring the Hunters to airworthy condition. Initially these were to be used against the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group which the army was battling during the Nahr el-Bared Operation, yet this operation ended before the air force was able to complete their restoration. During November 2008, the air force made three Hunters operational, and displayed them during Lebanon's 65th independence anniversary on November 22, 2008. The base has always been considered to be the home of those aircraft, however during the eighties the Hunters had to move to Hallat strip due to the close proximity of the air base to Syria. The Hunters later returned to the base, yet were grounded during 1994. All fights during 2008, after restoration, were carried from this base.
Like the rest of Lebanon's airports, the runways at Rayak were bombed by the Israeli Air Force on July 13 2006, during the 2006 Lebanon War. A bomb on each runway was sufficient to punch deep holes and render the airport disabled.
- On September 1st, 1942, General de Gaulle.
- On September 26, 1949, Marquise de Freij and his wife.
- On October 17, 1949, the British General Hayes, the supreme commander of the British troops in the Middle East, visited Rayak Air base and had lunch with its officers and the British squad there.
- On November 28, 1954, the US air force commander in West Tripoli General Glandburg.
- Mitilian, Vatche. "Lebanese Air Foce - Air Bases". Vatche Mitilian's Independent Guide To The Lebanese Air Force. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
- "Lebanese Air Force". Lebanese Army. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
- Luijken, Piet. "Lebanese Air Force". Scramble. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
- "Lebanon Air Force Museum - Rayak AFB - Lebanon". Aviation Museum. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
- "Israeli planes attack Lebanese air base". breakingNEWS.ie. July 13, 2006.
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