Tag Archives: Draken International

Paging Clarie Chennault, Ukraine edition

Draken International’s No.574 Mirage F-1M fresh out of the paint barn, Nov 2019. The company recently picked up a ton of retired supersonic fighter bombers (20 single-seat Mirage F1Ms and two two-seat F1Bs) from Spain and has been busy putting them back together and getting them flightworthy, as part of the growing “Red Air” business.

LT Taylor Buck (USNA 2016), currently a screwtop driver with VAW-125, has an interesting take in this month’s Proceedings, on rebooting the Flying Tigers but instead of Curtiss P-40s and Claire Chennault’s 100 volunteer flyboys, it would be more of a shell corporation with privately-owned high-performance jets and fighter jocks looking for a challenge as a military contractor.

With all of the second-hand Mirages, MiGs, F-16s and F-18s owned by the assorted commercial aggressor firms, it’s not a terrible idea.

From the piece:

Just as the original volunteers flew U.S.-designed P-40 Warhawks sold under foreign license, assembled in the CAMCO factory in Rangoon, Burma, modern diplomatic interests would be best served if the AVG did not fly aircraft supplied directly from the active U.S. government inventory. Fortunately, red air contractors already possess a carefully curated treasure-trove of warbirds from which an AVG could be assembled.

ATAC owns a fleet of more than 90 aircraft, including the Mirage F1, F-21 Kfir, Mk 58 Hawker Hunter, and L-39 Albatross. The JTAC/FAC focused contractor “Blue Air Training” possesses seven OV-10D+/G Broncos, eight A-90 Raiders, six PC-9A/F Pilatuses, and a fleet of BAC 167 Strikemasters and IAR 823 Brasovs. Tac-Air operates the Embraer EMB 312F Tucano (A-27), Canadair CF-5D, Siai-Marchetti SF-260TP, Su-27, and A-29 Super Tucano. Draken owns a “dozen ex-South African Atlas Cheetahs, and 22 ex-Spanish Air Force Mirage F1Ms plus assorted other subsonic jets . . . A-4 Skyhawks, L-159 Honey Badgers, L-39s, and MB339s . . . as well as a deep backstock of MiG-21s.” Top Aces operates the Bombardier Learjet 35A, Dornier Alpha Jet, and the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.

Draken, Top Aces, Air USA, and Tac-Air boast the best potential for fourth-generation fighters that could help establish an AVG-enforced no-fly zone. Draken owns 24 former Norwegian and Dutch F-16s. Top Aces operates 29 ex-Israeli F-16A/Bs. Air USA recently acquired 46 Australian F/A-18A/B Hornets that supplement its healthy attack and command-and-control fleet, which includes the L-39, BAE Hawk Mk.67, Cessna 0-2/C-337 Skymaster.

Tac-Air flies an unspecified number of F-16Cs as well as 25 F-5 Advanced Tigers upgraded with heads-up displays and hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls, “open architecture mission computers and tailored operational flight programs that enable integration of advanced radar and [radar-warning receiver] systems, [infrared search-and-track systems], [electronic attack], datalinks,” and so on. It refers to the Advanced Tigers as a “4th generation adversary platform with 3rd generation economy.”

More here.

And in related news, the Ukraine Air Force is trying to crowd-source new fighters. Because this is 2022.

Mirages around Florida…

Draken International is perhaps the most capable player in the contract adversary air training game, fielding a fleet of modern jets to go OPFOR against forces large and small. They recently picked up a ton of retired supersonic fighter bombers (20 single-seat Mirage F1Ms and two two-seat F1Bs) from Spain and have been busy putting them back together and getting them flightworthy. As the F1s had arrived in disassembled in crates and had seen much use, it is no easy task.

The Mirage F1 in Spanish service

Working with Paramount Aerospace Systems, they are getting it done and Draken’s first refurbished F1 took to the air on 12 November at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida and has so far completed four sorties while another F1M completed slow speed taxi tests on Monday.

Some are also getting a new, digital scheme, similar to what is seen on PLAAF and Russian aircraft in recent years.

The former Spanish Air Force F1 fleet will soon join Draken’s 13 A-4K/N Skyhawks and 23 L-159 Honey Badgers that currently support the U.S. Air Force out of Nellis Air Force Base with “red air” aggressor training. Draken also acquired nine ex-South African Air Force Cheetah C and three Cheetah D fighters, derived from the older Mirage III, from Denel in 2018 and fields no less than 27 MiG-21s as well.

Scooters of South America

Formation of VA-22 A4C “Skyhawk” aircraft over Mt. Fuji, Japan, 27 April 1964. NHHC

A thing of beauty: A formation of U.S. Navy VA-22 A4C “Skyhawk” aircraft over Mt. Fuji, Japan, 27 April 1964. NHHC

Some 3,000 A4D/A-4 Skyhawks were produced between 1954 and 1979, and the type flew with under no less than nine flags. While an estimated 300 are in static displays around the globe and another 50 airworthy examples are in private hands, often flown on contract dissimilar training duties by groups like Draken Intl, Ed Heinemann’s vaunted “Scooters” are today only seen in active military service in Latin America.


Argentina, a huge operator of the Skyhawk, purchased over 130 A-4s in the 1960s and 70s. Famously, about half of these were deployed against the British in the Falklands and no less than 22 lost in combat through clashes with Harriers, AAA of all flavors, and SAMs.

Argentine A4 Skyhawks attack San Carlos Harbor, Falklands, 1982

ARA Veinticinco de Mayo makes A-4 Skyhawk jets ready during the 1982 Falklands War note “Invincible” marked bomb. The Argentine carrier never made an attack on the British task force. 

Today, the Argentines currently have 33 “A4AR Fightinghawks” (upgraded ex-USMC A-4M/TA-4F) airframes in their Air Force, operating in two ground attack squadrons of the 5th Air Brigade, with just 12 aircraft believed in service. The Argentine Navy, which used to fly ex USN A4A-4Bs from their WWII-era British-built carrier, ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (V-2), now only operates a squadron of increasingly unsupportable Super Étendards from shore as their sole combat jet.


In a different take, the Marinha do Brasil purchased 23 former Kuwaiti A-4KU/TA-4KU Skyhawks in 1997 after the former owner upgraded to F-18s. Just four years later, the Brazilians were successfully operating the type from their former ASW-only aircraft carrier, NAeL Minas Gerais (A-11), a sistership of Veinticinco de Mayo. The Skyhawks continued to be used on Brazil’s follow-on flattop, NAe São Paulo (A12) after that ship was purchased from France.

Looks like a USN flight deck from the 1970s, yes? Nope, Brazilian Navy carrier Sao Paulo in 2005. The similarity shouldn’t be surprising as the Marinha do Brasil’s A4 drivers were trained in Pensacola and the U.S Navy had a big helping hand in establishing Brazil’s carrier jet operation. This proved supremely ironic when the country later assisted the Chinese with their own flattop start-up in 2013. 

Sao Paulo proved to be something of a lemon for Brazil and the high-mileage French ship spent very little time at sea before she was finally decommissioned in 2018. Today, the country has switched to operating the former RN assault ship HMS Ocean, as NAe Atlantico, which cannot run the good old Skyhawk.

Nonetheless, the Aviação Naval Brasileira still runs their A4s, flown from shore by the “Falcos” of VF-1, with less than a dozen airframes considered active.

And they remain beautiful aircraft.

via Marinha do Brasil

via Marinha do Brasil

via Marinha do Brasil

via Marinha do Brasil


Melbourne hawks in review

Here we see a pair of McDonnell Douglas A4G Skyhawks of the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm 805 Squadron (VF-805) coming in low and hot over the RAN’s only operable aircraft carrier of the time, HMAS Melbourne (R21) sometime in the 1970s.

While the RAN FAA traces its lineage back to the Great War, it was only after WWII that it was able to stand up fixed-wing carrier squadrons, flying Hawker Sea Fury’s in Korea. After a brief interlude in Sea Venoms, 805 Squadron picked up their Seahawks in 1968.

The two ‘Hawks shown above were part of 21 A-4s operated by the RAN between 1967-84 with #887 eventually transferring to New Zealand from where she was sold in 2012 to Draken International (where she still flies as a contract aggressor in Florida). As for #888, she crashed in 1979 but her pilot, a U.S. Navy aviator on exchange duty, was rescued.