‘Red Air’ Contractors Chalk Up Milestones

 - August 29, 2019, 11:52 AM
ATAC's first ex-French air force Mirage to return to the skies was a two-seat F1B registered N601AX. (Photo: ATAC)

Part of Textron Airborne Solutions, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) has been conducting contractorized adversary and terminal air controller training activities for U.S. forces for two decades with a variety of aircraft, including the Aero L-39, Hawker Hunter, and IAI Kfir. On August 22 ATAC performed the first flight of its new Dassault Mirage F1 following refurbishment. The F1B two-seater flew for around 30 minutes on its first acceptance test flight. Earlier, on June 22, ATAC undertook the first high-speed taxi trials with a single-seat F1CR.

In July 2017 ATAC acquired 63 Dassault Mirage F1s from the French air force, along with an extensive supply of spares, including more than 100 Snecma Atar 9K-50 engines. The first two were delivered by sea in July 2018 and the last on April 2 this year.

The company aims to have at least 40 of them flying following refurbishment at the company’s Adversary Center of Excellence (ACE) at Alliance Airport, Fort Worth, Texas. Of the 63, 32 are described as in good condition, requiring little effort to restore them to flying status. The other 31 would require more work, and some may be used for spares. A new facility for ACE began construction at Alliance Airport in October, with a 75,000-sq-ft hangar to serve maintenance, overhaul, and training requirements. Previously the company had operated mainly from Newport News, Virginia.

Work in getting the F1s back into the air has been assisted by South Africa’s Paramount Aerospace Systems, which acquired 21 former South African Air Force Mirage F1AZs in 2006, some of which now fly with the air forces of Gabon and the Congo Republic (Brazzaville). The company also bought four ex-French Mirage F1B two-seaters for pilot training.

One of ATAC’s competitors in the adversary sector, Draken International, also bought 22 Mirage F1s from Spain. Both companies are strengthening their fleets to answer an increasing need for adversary support for the U.S. Air Force at a number of fighter bases around the country, which increasingly requires relatively modern aircraft equipped with capable radars.

Alpha Jet
A Top Aces Alpha Jet flies alongside an F-16 from the Vermont Air National Guard. (Photo: Top Aces)

In the meantime, another airborne services contractor, Top Aces, has surpassed 80,000 flight hours of operational air combat training. Headquartered in Dorval, Quebec, Top Aces operated for many years as Discovery Air Defence Services, but now trades globally under the name of its U.S. subsidiary.

The 80,000-hour milestone was reached on July 30 during a two-ship mission by Douglas A-4 Skyhawks as part of the company’s contract to support the Eurofighter Typhoon fighters of the German air force’s Tactical Wing 71 “Richthofen” at Wittmund.

In addition to its Luftwaffe support contract, Top Aces provides adversary and target facilities services to forces in Australia and Canada, with the U.S. to be added soon. In addition to the Skyhawk, the company flies Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, Learjet 35As, and IAI Westwinds and expects to add F-16s in the near future.