Reports are coming in of an unspecified “incident” involving a Mirage F1 fighter jet operated by the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, or ATAC, at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. An official statement from the base’s public affairs office confirmed that an incident occurred at around 11:25 AM local time, but offered no additional details.
The first indications that something had gone wrong at the Florida airbase were provided on Tyndall’s own Twitter account, which stated that “an aircraft incident occurred on base” and that this was “currently under investigation.” At this stage, there has been no mention of any loss of life or injury, but Military.com has reported that one of ATAC’s Mirages — apparently a two-seat Mirage F1B model — was involved.
Prior to that, local news reports said that “multiple agencies responded to the base” to assist. According to eyewitnesses, the agencies responded on the flight-line side of the base.
Unconfirmed reports claim that the Mirage in question had a landing gear failure and made a belly landing in a field adjacent to the flight line. These also contend that the two crew survived, one ejecting and the other remaining onboard the jet. We must stress that this is the information we have heard from our sources and in open sources, and it could change as the story unfolds.
As a commercial contractor supplying the Air Force with aggressor support under its huge “red air” adversary support program, ATAC operates a diverse fleet that includes 61 former French Air Force Mirage F1 supersonic, radar-equipped fighters, the original design of which dates back to the late 1960s.
ATAC, which is part of Textron Airborne Solutions, procured the single-seat Mirage F1CR/CT and two-seat F1B jets in anticipation of the Air Force adversary support requirement. The jets began arriving at its new Adversary Center of Excellence (ATAC-ACE), at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, Texas, in June 2017. These aircraft were then returned to airworthy status, with the first refurbished Mirage F1 — a two-seat B model — taking to the air at Alliance Airport on August 22, 2019.
Around 45 of the ATAC Mirage F1s are set to be upgraded with new avionics, radars, and electronic warfare systems. These jets will join the company’s supersonic Kfirs and subsonic L-39 Albatros trainers, as well as its Hawker Hunter Mk 58s.
In this past story, you can read about why the F1, in particular, is such an attractive aggressor for the kind of higher-end adversary training that is now seeing increasing demand.
The Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC) awarded seven companies contracts worth up to a combined total of $6.4 billion on October 18, 2019, to provide adversary air support over the next five years. As well as ATAC, the other companies awarded contracts were Air USA, Blue Air Training, Coastal Defense, Draken International, Tactical Air Support (TacAir), and Top Aces.
ATAC’s biggest competitor, Draken International, has also bought 22 Mirage F1s, these being former Spanish Air Force examples.
For its part, Tyndall Air Force Base is prized for its direct access to approximately 130,000 square miles of training airspace over the Gulf of Mexico. It supports around 20,000 jobs in the communities surrounding the base and generates millions of dollars for the local economy each year. These facts prompted state politicians and Florida’s members of Congress to press to keep the facility open even after it was decimated by Hurricane Michael in 2018. The Air Force is now eyeing plans to field three full squadrons of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters at Tyndall as part of the base’s ongoing modernization.
The first ATAC Mirages arrived at Tyndall last December 14. This detachment comprises around six aircraft, five pilots, and 30 maintenance personnel. Over the next few years, the ATAC unit is expected to fly more than 1,100 sorties to provide adversary air support to the 43rd Fighter Squadron, which is the schoolhouse for the F-22 Raptor, and the 58th Fighter Squadron, the schoolhouse for the F-35A. The Mirages are planned to replace Tyndall’s current fleet of T-38 Talon jet trainers in this role.
We have reached out to ATAC for comment and we will continue to update this story as more details emerge.
UPDATE: 5:45 PM EST
Officials at Tyndall Air Force Base have now issued the following statement from Air Force Colonel Gregory Moseley, head of the 325th Fighter Wing, confirming many of the previously reported details:
Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilots and their families. At approximately 11:25 a.m. this morning a Mirage F1B aircraft contracted through Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) crashed off the end of the flight line at Tyndall Air Force Base. First responders were dispatched to the scene immediately and both pilots were taken to a hospital in Panama City, Florida, to assess injuries sustained during the crash. Tyndall is working closely with ATAC to ensure a thorough and timely investigation of the incident occurs. Additional details will be provided as they become available
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