Contract Aggressor Jet Crashes in Arizona, Pilot Ejects Safely

A contract Mirage F1 crashed in an unpopulated area about 15 miles outside of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., around 11 a.m. on Feb. 10. The pilot safely ejected and is being treated for minor injuries, but the aircraft was destroyed, according to officials. 

Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, which owns and operates the Luke-based F1 fleet, provides adversary air services in support of the F-35 formal training unit at the base. 

“ATAC is investigating the incident and will work with relevant authorities to determine the cause and take any remedial action that is necessary,” according to an ATAC statement. “We ask for your understanding as we work through all the details of this investigation. ATAC will provide more information as it becomes available.” 

The company “paused” F1 flight operations “in order to conduct an initial investigation and assess the status of the F1 fleet,” a company spokesman told Air Force Magazine.

Air Combat Command in 2020 awarded ATAC two contracts worth up to $240 million over the course of 4.5 years to fly adversary, or “Red Air,” missions at Luke and at the F-16 FTU at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The company said at the time it would base six jets at each location. ATAC acquired the F1s from the French Air Force in 2017.

The contracts were part of a larger multi-award effort worth up to $6.4 billion for as many as 40,000 hours of adversary air at 12 bases, freeing up Air Force pilots for other training and operations. 

This was not the first contract Aggressor to crash. Since the Air Force kickstarted the adversary air industry, there have been at least four accidents. A Mirage F1 pilot employed by Florida-based Draken International was killed in May 2021 when his aircraft crashed during a training mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. In February 2021, two ATAC pilots were treated for non-life threatening injuries after their F1s crashed while supporting operations at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. And, in 2018, the Hawaii Air National Guard temporarily suspended Exercise Sentry Aloha after an ATAC Hawker Hunter crashed in the waters a few miles off the coast. The pilot safely ejected and was rescued by a civilian sailboat.

“Our Airmen and partners are our most important resource and we are committed to conducting our mission to train the world’s greatest fighter pilots as safely as possible,” said Brig. Gen. Gregory Kreuder, 56th Fighter Wing commander, in a release. “We are thankful for the continued outstanding support Luke receives from our community partners, especially during difficult situations like this. Finally, I’m grateful nobody was hurt on the ground and the pilot was safely recovered with only minor injuries.”