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The Air Force hired privately-owned F-16s to train its 5th-generation pilots

Miguel Ortiz Avatar

The U.S. military trains its fighter pilots in air-to-air combat with aggressor squadrons. Using enemy tactics and flying American aircraft painted to mimic enemy aircraft, the American pilots in these squadrons provide “Red Air” training for their fellow service members. However, maintaining such squadrons within the ranks of the military keeps pilots and aircraft off of the frontlines. Aggressor squadrons also require budgetary and logistical support. To alleviate these commitments and provide dedicated Red Air to train fifth-generation pilots, the Air Force hired Top Aces Inc.

Top Aces F-16s over Arizona (Top Aces/James DeBoer)

On September 12, 2022, the Mesa, AZ-based Top Aces announced that it was selected under the Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support program to provide adversary training to Air Force pilots at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida and Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The five-year contract is valued up to $175 million and “will significantly enhance the training of fifth generation combat pilots” according to a Top Aces announcement. Training in support of the Air Force’s F-35A and F-22 fleets is scheduled to begin in October 2022.

Top Aces acquired F-16s from Israel, becoming the first commercial operator of the aircraft (IDAF)

Adversary aircraft provided by Top Aces will come in the form of 29 F-16A/B ‘Netz’ fighter jets that the company acquired from Israel. Variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, these jets have been further modified with Advanced Electronically Scanned Array radar, helmet-mounted cueing systems, tactical datalinks and high off-boresight missile capabilities and designated as F-16 Advanced Aggressor Fighters. Top Aces is the only operator of the F-16 AAF and the first private company to deliver contracted air training to the Air Force with the platform.

The F-16 is a favored aggressor aircraft for its maneuverability and speed (Top Aces/James DeBoer)

Top Aces boasts over 100,000 accident-free flight hours over the course of 17 years. Moreover, the company’s training team includes former aggressor pilots and tactical controllers to provide the Air Force with high-quality air combat training. “Top Aces’ cadre of highly-experienced Aggressor pilots and maintenance crews looks forward to supporting Luke and Eglin to fulfill their advanced combat training needs,” said Top Aces Corp. President and former Air Force aggressor pilot Russ Quinn. “With our fleet of F-16 AAFs, we deliver a caliber of adversary air training that was previously non-existent. Our commitment is to deliver professional excellence and significant cost efficiencies.”