Hilmi’s flight: a Yak-11 in the flashpoint of the Middle East conflict.
Every biography is bound up in the fabric of the large and small contexts of its time. If one has the opportunity to take a closer look at an individual fate, this generality transforms into a concrete and humanly touching, all too often also dramatic story. The starting point of the present model gives rise to such a narrative, in which individual decisions prove to be decisive and yet, for all their intentions, cannot be separated from the foil of the fatal political situation.
In 1964, this special Jak-11 of the Egyptian Air Force achieved brief fame: in the morning hours of 19 January, the Egyptian Air Force Captain Mahmud Abbas Hilmi landed with it at the Israeli base of Hatzor after a one-and-a-half-hour flight from the Egyptian base of El-Anish in a hair-raising operation. After shutting down the engine, surrounded by Israeli soldiers, he requested political asylum.
Preserved pictures and film footage from the day of his escape show Hilmi as a tall young man who had apparently started his escape in full uniform, including acquired military decorations. Coming from a respected and also politically active family, Hilmi was among the elite within the Egyptian Air Force. After combat missions in Yemen, the 26-year-old officer had spent the last two years as a flight instructor. The reason for his flight was the political orientation of his country under President Nasser.
A political upheaval had taken place in Egypt in the mid-1950s. Under the leadership of the authoritarian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the country broke away from the dominant influence of Great Britain, which had acted in an outdated colonial manner, and in return found a new big brother: the Soviet Union. Although Egypt wanted to keep itself free from too tight an embrace, it could not resist the offer to be supplied with high-quality Soviet arms.
Especially since Egypt was facing an enemy that had already proved its military potential: Israel. The newly formed state chose the other side of the Cold War-divided world as its ally. This friendship also materialised in arms deliveries.
The circumstances described are well illustrated by the aircraft involved in Hilmi’s defection. The Jak-11, also known as the “Russian Harvard”, was derived as a two-seat advanced trainer from the successful Jak-3 fighter. After its maiden flight in November 1945 and around a year of testing, the powerful design found widespread use, with use encompassing both the original trainer role and use as a light ground combat aircraft.
As the Eastern Bloc was forming, the Jak-11 found use in the flying units of all Warsaw Pact countries. In addition, the aircraft was often given away as a “friendship gift”; for example, four of the aircraft were added to the inventory of the Austrian army, which was created in 1955. In Czechoslovakia, the Jak-11 rolled off the production line under the designation Let C-11; the Egyptian examples came from this source.
Hilmi was discovered during his escape in Egyptian airspace by two patrolling Mig-17s. The fact that he had escaped on a trainer plane probably saved his life. Hilmi reported how he had been contacted and harassed by the pursuing pilots through aerial manoeuvres: they may have mistaken him for a student pilot who was hopelessly and dangerously “lost”. When he reached Israeli airspace over Sinai, the two Mig-17s withdrew, for the Israeli military had in the meantime launched two Mirage IIIs. Apparently, they did not want the situation to escalate.
Mahmud Abbas Hilmi was indeed granted asylum in the weeks following his flight. However, after a few weeks he asked the Israeli authorities for help to build a new life in Argentina. Israel complied with this request, the Mossad provided a new identity and adequate start-up aid, so that Hilmi’s adventure of escape seemed to end well.
Unfortunately, things turned out differently. Hilmi probably behaved too carelessly. Since he had contacted his mother by postcard to tell her of his well-being, Egypt was able to pick up his trail that same year. After being lured into a trap prepared by the Egyptian secret service by a compatriot living in Buenos Aires, he was taken out of the country the same night and murdered in Egypt.
To the model
A&A Models released a new kit of this important trainer s in 2017, considerably expanding the rather limited possibilities to build a Jak-11 in this scale. The kit itself is of a high short-run standard: the sprues are, as expected, very thick and one must expect an increased need for trimming and trial fitting of the parts, but the building process itself is largely problem-free.
A&A offers two variants for the representation of the engine: with the front radiator grille closed, the job is quickly done with only one part closing the engine cowling to the front. If you choose the second variant, where the engine block, engine suspension, exhaust system etc. are reproduced in detail, you have to reckon with some additional work. I opted for this variant. You are rewarded with an impressively deep view into the engine cowling and the first row of cylinders, but you can’t see anything of the elaborately manufactured rest.
It would have been nice to show the canopy open. On the other hand, I appreciate the precisely fitting masking for the clear parts supplied with the kit. I also have to praise the quality of the decals! They are really top, the processing is a pleasure.
In conclusion, I may recommend this kit to all who have a little experience in dealing with the requirements of a short-run kit and who have an interest in an interesting type of aircraft that has been under-represented in manufacturers’ catalogues and display tables to date. I myself enjoyed building and dealing with the Jak-11 very much!
19 additional images. Click to enlarge.