JERUSALEM, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The Israeli air force officially retired the F-16A/B "Netz" fighter aircraft, concluding the plane's 36 years of operational service with the branch.
90 Netz aircraft were withdrawn from service during a ceremony at Israel's Ouvda Air Force Base. The event was marked by high praise for the plane's combat capabilities, including its performance during several of Israel's most notable armed conflicts.
"Moments ago, the 'Netz' landed from its last flight after 36 years of flight," Ouvda AFP Commander Col. Itamar said. "Today, we say goodbye to an incredible aircraft that seems to have been created by an artist, an aircraft that fits its missions like a glove."
Israeli Air Force pilots used the Netz during a variety of combat missions supporting 1996's Operation "Grapes of Wrath", the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and more recently Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In total, the aircraft has conducted 474,000 sorties and accumulated 335,000 flight hours.
"Only those who have touched the aircraft, only those who have been touched by the aircraft, know that the 'Netz' is not just an object - it has a soul," Lt. Col. Udi added.
The F-16A/B Netz is a General Dynamics-made fighter aircraft originally delivered in 1980 that served as a predecessor to the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. The plane's retirement comes shortly after Israel received its first two fifth-generation F-35 Lighting II multirole aircraft.
Israel's armed forces plan to continue procuring F-35 planes to replace its aging fleet of F-15s and F-16s.