IAI Lavi

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The IAI Lavi (Hebrew: לביא, "Young Lion") was a combat aircraft developed in Israel in the 1980s. It was a multi-billion dollar fighter aircraft project that was disbanded when the Israeli government concluded it could not finance production on its own, could not achieve a consensus on the Lavi's cost-effectiveness and received political pressure from the US government to cancel a fighter that would compete with American exports. Only two of the Lavi prototypes remain — one is on display at the Israeli Air Force (IAF) museum and the other (the Lavi TD, technology demonstrator) can still be found at the IAI facilities at the Ben Gurion airport.


The Lavi project began in February 1980, when the Israeli government authorized the IAF to present it with a list of technical specifications for the development of the IAF's future fighter. The development stage began in October 1982, with the choice of a Pratt & Whitney engine already having been made.

One of the Lavi's most distinct advantages is its functional features, especially its cockpit, custom-built entirely using input from active IAF fighter pilots. Drawing on their operational experience, the design was geared to let the pilot handle the tactical aspects of the battle, without having to worry about monitoring and controlling the various subsystems. The avionics of the Lavi were considered to be innovative and groundbreaking, and included self-analysis equipment to make maintenance easier.

The aircraft features a delta wing with large, steerable canards situated in the front of the aircraft. While this configuration affords excellent maneuverability it also exhibits natural instability in flight. To compensate, the Lavi was outfitted with a sophisticated digital fly-by-wire system which allows the plane to take advantage of this particular wing design while eliminating its shortcoming. The Lavi was one of the first aircraft to feature this type of configuration, which has since become almost ubiquitous in many other fighter aircraft which have been developed around the world since the Lavi.

On December 31 1986, the first prototype of the Lavi took off on its maiden flight. The test pilot, Menachem Shmul, head of IAI's Air Operations section, took off at 13:21 and stayed in the air for 26 minutes, during which he checked the engine and controls.

About three months later, a second Lavi prototype took to the air. In its maiden flight, the engine systems, flight control, electrical system, hydraulics and air conditioning were evaluated. The second prototype had some improvements over the first, with a belly-mounted fuel tank, a special midair refuelling probe and several avionic systems that were not employed in the first prototype.

The IAI had produced two prototypes out of the originally planned five when the Israeli government decided to cancel the project because of budget problems and bickering among various economic and political pressure groups. The total cost for the development and production of the Lavi was US$6.4 billion in 1983, of which around 40% was funded by the United States and 60% by the Israeli government. The project was canceled in part because the U.S. was not prepared to finance an aircraft that would compete in the export market with the F-16C/D and the F/A-18C/D, and also because a dispute arose as to the final cost. The Israeli government was unable to finance the project alone and canceled it on August 30 1987.[1] The decision to cancel was approved with a majority of only one vote. Two years after the project's cancellation, the IAI has completed the building of the third Lavi prototype, which served as a Technology Demonstrator (TD) and a flying testbed to some of the IAI's projects. The TD flew until the mid nineties, and was later used as a ground testbed.

Throughout the project's lifetime, Likud minister Moshe Arens, himself an IAF veteran, was the Lavi's main advocate. However, the military was not of one mind on the issue. A counter-argument was that the Lavi did not represent a sufficient advance over the F-16 or other comparable aircraft to justify its higher cost, and Israel was better off buying larger numbers of the American plane. Some community welfare organizations in Israel blasted the spending associated with the Lavi as a bottomless pit, and contrasted it with dwindling expenditure on health and education.

However, while the Lavi project was canceled, its development represented an important opportunity to demonstrate and advance the capabilities of Israel's aerospace industry; moreover, many of the aircraft's sub-systems and components continued to be developed by the Israeli aerospace industry and are nowadays available in the defense marketplace as separate systems. They contribute to Israeli exports.

According to some sources, the design of China's Chengdu J-10 fighter was influenced by the Lavi, with Israeli cooperation.[2] However, the designer of the J-10, Song Wencong (宋文骢), has denied any connection whatsoever with Lavi program, pointing to similarities with the J-9, which predates the Lavi.[3]

Armscor of South Africa was reported to have made concerted efforts to recruit technicians that had worked on the Lavi for its Atlas Cheetah upgrade project.[4]

Fate of prototype aircraft

When the IAI Lavi was cancelled on August 30 1987, a total of five airframes had been built. Prototypes #1 and #2 were completed prototypes, while #3, #4, and #5 were incomplete. Parts from unit #1 and #2 were pulled to complete unit #3 as the private-venture technology demonstrator (TD) aircraft. The gutted unit #2 was put in the Israeli Air Force museum at Beersheba for static display, and the rest (#1, #4, & #5) were melted down for scrap. [1].

Specifications (Lavi)

General characteristics




  1. ^ Lavi, The Jewish Virtual Library.
  2. ^ "THE PHALCON SALE TO CHINA: THE LESSONS FOR ISRAEL", Jonathan Adelman, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved September 27, 2007.
  3. ^ "Exclusive Interview with J-10 General Designer Song Wencong". 2007.
  4. ^ Geldenhuys, Deon (1990). Isolated States: A Comparative Analysis. Cambridge University Press.

See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era