by Cathy Hansen, special to Aerotech News
A MK-58 Hunter was at Mojave Air and Space Port last week, performing research and development flights.
The aircraft is operated by ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company), and is based at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif.
ATAC is part of the Textron System segment of Textron Inc., in Newport News, Va.
This aircraft and many other Hawker Hunters are used for tactical air training, threat simulation and research & development programs.
Military and civilian organizations find the cost effectiveness of ATAC an advantage when conducting airborne missions.
Richard Zins, vice president of Business Operations, was pilot for the Mojave mission last week. He was enthusiastic about flying this classic British multi-role aircraft and said this particular Hunter served with the Swiss Air Force in 1960.
The professionalism of the ATAC flight support crew was impressive. They are former military personnel who conduct pre-flight inspections, signal the pilot for engine start and then inspect the entire exterior of the aircraft and pull chocks, before giving pilot the signal to proceed with taxi.
ATAC bases are located on the East and West Coasts of the United States, and in Hawaii and Japan.
Mk-58 Hawker Hunter
The Hawker Hunter is a sleek classic British combat aircraft, designed by Sydney Camm, the brilliant designer of the Hawker Hurricane and Hawker Siddeley Harrier. The multi-role Hawker Hunter is exceptional and was a trend setter, as most countries designed aircraft to meet individual specific missions and roles.
The Hunter was used as an air superiority fighter, ground attack aircraft, photo reconnaissance aircraft and military trainer. At the end of World War II, the Royal Air Force needed a new aircraft to meet new world threats. A design was needed to replace the de Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor, both jet fighters being used at the time.
In 1948 and early 1950s, the U.S. Air Force was developing new types of jet fighters like the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and the North American F-86 Sabre. The Soviet Union was putting the swept wing MiG-15 into service.
The first prototype Hunter flew on July 20, 1951. The Hunter is one of the longest-serving jets in any air force, with the last of its type retired from the Royal Air Force in 1996. A total of 1,972 Hunters were built, of which 400 were later rebuilt for service with secondary air forces, and it served with 21 different countries.
In 1953, Hawker decided to modify the prototype Hunter to attempt the Absolute Air Speed Record for England. At the time, the record was held by the North American F-86D Sabre. On Sept. 7, 1953, the modified first prototype broke the world air speed record for aircraft, achieving a speed of 727.63 miles per hour.
Hunters were also used by two RAF display teams: the Black Arrows — predecessors to the RAF’s Red Arrows — who on one occasion looped a record-breaking 22 Hunters in formation, and later the ‘Blue Diamonds’ demonstration team, who flew 16 aircraft.
Obviously, Hawker Hunters are still flying 68 years after the prototype first flight — a great testament to the resilient, sound airframe and durable design.
History of ATAC
According to ATAC’s website, the company was founded by Jeff “JD” Parker in 1994 under the name of VORTEX and in 2002, a new company emerged — Airborne Tactical Advantage Company or ATAC, upon winning a contract with the U.S. Navy.
ATAC established its home base at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in early 2002, commencing operations under NAVAIR’s newly awarded contract in May of that year.
The first Mk-58 Hawker Hunter arrived at ATAC in 2003. The subsonic Hunter was better suited for the NAVAIR missions and proved to be extremely versatile and reliable. One dual-place Hunter was used for training in Newport News, and single-seat Hunters were subsequently added to locations on the East and West Coasts, with two each placed in both Hawaii and Japan.
In October 2004, the first ATAC aircraft landed at NASA Point Mugu, establishing a permanent presence at the facility. ATAC has supported all Pacific Fleet Strike Groups, and supported unit level training for Navy and Marine Corps operational F/A-18 squadrons and FRS units from NAS Lemoore, as well as MCAS Miramar, all staging from Point Mugu. Aircraft, pilots and maintenance crew regularly deploy from Point Mugu to Alaska, Yuma, Ariz., Boise, Idaho, and numerous other locations.
ATAC began operating out of NAF Atsugi, Japan, in 2006, with two Hunters permanently based there and the personnel, pilots and maintenance crews travelling to Japan for scheduled training and exercises. ATAC’s WestPac Operation supports the U.S. Navy with Fleet Integrated and Air-to-Air training in a wide range of missions.
In 2008 MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, became the fourth permanent operating location. ATAC’s Hawaii operation primarily supports fleet integrated training with the two Hunters based there, conducting target towing for Navy ships and air intercept control scenarios for the ship-borne controllers, as well as dry Close Air Support for Marine Corps and Naval Special Warfare Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs) based in the Hawaiian Islands.
Textron, Inc., purchased ATAC in 2016 and then ATAC completed the purchase of 63 Mirage F1s from the French Air Force, taking ownership of the entire legacy fleet, all support equipment and more than 150 ATAR 9K50 engines. This massive investment was targeted at winning a portion of the U.S. Air Force’s upcoming CAF CAS Adversary Air contract.
ATAC won the contract in the summer 2020. ATAC provides adversary air training to pilots at Luke AFB, Ariz., Holloman AFB, N.M., and Eglin AFB, Fla. The combined awards provide for more than 3,000 sorties per year, for up to 4.5 years, which will be provided by ATAC’s fleet of Mirage F1 fighter aircraft and was expected to commence in fall 2020. Under the same contract, ATAC also provides Close Air Support for the U.S. Air Force Special Operations command with A-27 Tucano and L39 Albatross aircraft.
Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, LLC
From a November 2020 press release, ATAC announced they would be providing tactical flight training and adversary aggressor services for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, including live military air-to-air, air-to-ship, and air-to-ground training and support services.
ATAC comprises the world’s leading civilian-provided, tactical airborne training organization and provides the highest quality live training to squadrons, Air Wings, and Battle Groups.
About Textron Systems – Textron Inc.
Textron Systems is a world leader in unmanned air, surface and land products, services and support for aerospace and defense customers. Harnessing agility and a broad base of expertise, Textron Systems’ innovative businesses design, manufacture, field and support comprehensive solutions that expand customer capabilities and deliver value.
Textron Inc. is a multi-industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services. Textron is known around the world for its powerful brands such as Bell, Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, Jacobsen, Kautex, Lycoming, E-Z-GO, Artic Cat, Textron Systems, and TRU Simulation and Training.