(JTA) — Mitchell Flint, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot who helped create the Israeli Air Force in 1948, has died.
Flint died Saturday in Los Angeles at the age of 94.
He served in Israel’s first fighter squadron as one of the founding members of Machal, a group of non-Israelis who fought in Israel’s War for Independence. He also helped to train Israel’s first military pilots.
Flint volunteered at the age of 18 to serve as a U.S. pilot, serving in the Pacific theater during World War II, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a Navy combat flyer in World War I.
In 1948, using the ruse of traveling to the Olympic Games in London, he got himself to Czechoslovakia and then on to the new State of Israel to volunteer his services.
“I’m Jewish, Israel desperately needed trained fighter pilots, so I thought I could perhaps do something to sustain the state,” Flint told JTA in 2012.
He flew in refurbished German fighter planes that had been captured during World War II alongside a couple of Israeli pilots who had served in Britain’s Royal Air Force, and augmented by volunteers from the United States, Canada and South Africa.
In memory of his work for Israel’s 101st Squadron, Flint last year flew a special sortie over Israel for Independence Day.
After the War of Independence, Flint returned to the United States, moving to Los Angeles and becoming a lawyer. Flint and his son, Mike, flew to London for the 2012 Olympic games.