Top Aces F-16 Fighter Cleared for Aggressor Duties

 - May 20, 2021, 12:36 PM
Seen on the ramp at Mesa-Gateway where overhaul and upgrade are performed, Top Aces’ first F-16A still wears its Israeli air force camouflage. (Photo: Top Aces Corp.)

Contracted air service provider Top Aces Corp. has received FAA certification for the General Dynamics (Lockheed Martin) F-16A for the “red air” aggressor mission. The company also performed the first flight of the upgraded and overhauled aircraft since their arrival from Israel.

The first aircraft to be completed, formerly USAF serial 78-0322/Israeli serial 129 and now registered as N854TA, made its initial flight on May 18. Aggressor operations with the supersonic, fourth-generation fighter are due to begin later this year.

“By recruiting the most experienced former USAF Aggressor pilots and ground crews, deploying this high-caliber aircraft, and upgrading the F-16 with tailor-made system modifications, Top Aces will provide the most tactically challenging, realistic, and cost-effective adversary training," said Top Aces president Russ Quinn. “The entire Top Aces team is very proud to play our part in providing the men and women who operate USAF and USN front-line fighters with the most advanced level of training possible.”

The company received its first three F-16As and a single F-16B in January after having been in discussion over their acquisition with Israel for some years. After being ferried in disassembled form by an Antonov An-124 airlifter to Top Aces’ F-16 Center of Excellence at Mesa-Gateway Airport in Arizona, the F-16s have undergone an overhaul back to full operational and airworthy status, and have been outfitted with equipment for the aggressor mission, notably the open architecture Advanced Aggressor Mission System, which caters to technologies such as active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, infrared search and track, advanced datalink, and a helmet-mounted cueing system.  

Top Aces is expected to ultimately receive 29 of the F-16A/Bs, although whether all will be restored to flying status is not yet known. The aircraft are from the first batch of F-16A/Bs supplied to Israel, which named this version “Netz.” Most of the aircraft have seen combat and some have had aerial victories. The first aircraft to fly is a veteran of the 1981 Israeli bombing raid on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.

Formerly known as Discovery Air Defence Services, the company is Canadian but has a large operation in the U.S. providing adversary services and joint terminal air controller (JTAC) training. In addition to its U.S. contracts, it is the main adversary supplier to the Canadian forces and also has a contract with the German Luftwaffe that was renewed last month. Its existing fleet comprises AESA-equipped A-4N Skyhawks, Alpha Jets, and Learjet 35As.

Adding the F-16 to the roster is a major advance as the need for more realistic training grows. Rivals ATAC and Draken are already using Dassault Mirage F1s on U.S. contracts. Meanwhile, in France, a company known as ARES (a merger of Secapem Defence Training Solutions and Secaero) hopes to use the Mirage 2000 in the adversary role. Another French company, Procor, acquired nine Mirage 2000s from the Brazilian air force in 2019 and is advertising them as adversary aircraft.