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 Zahle 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 prior to the Lebanon's independence, and has been in use since 1914 by different foreign armies 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 the it and 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 center 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 robbed by its own guards. The army command later decided to rebuilt 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:
Recruitment started with one hundred personnel, many of those who already had experience with the French. The first course students' included:
An administration building, several hangars (most of which 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 airbase is the home of the Lebanese Air Force Aviation School which trains air force pilots. The school currently employs Robinson Raven R44 II helicopters for these training purposes.
The Lebanese Air Force Technical school is also located at Rayak Air Base, its goal is to qualify technician for the whole air force.
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:
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 successfully 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 hunters, 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.
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