First Upgraded Top Aces F-16 Aggressor Fighter Flies

 - January 21, 2022, 6:12 AM
N854TA takes off from Mesa for the first time in F-16 AAF guise, optimized for the aggressor mission. (Photo: Top Aces/Kyler Noe)

Top Aces Corp. has flown the first Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter outfitted with its Advanced Aggressor Mission System (AAMS). Known as the F-16 Advanced Aggressor Fighter (AAF), the aircraft undertook its maiden flight in modified form on January 19 at the company’s F-16 Center of Excellence at Mesa-Gateway Airport in Arizona, which is the former Williams U.S. Air Force Base.

After several years of negotiation Top Aces acquired 29 Israeli F-16A/B Netz fighters in late 2020, with the first four arriving by An-124 airlifter at Mesa in January 2021. A second batch of four was delivered in July. One of the first batch—former Israeli “129” and now registered N854TA—made a first flight under a civilian certification on May 18 following refurbishment. It was then fitted with the AAMS package.

Working with technology partner Coherent Technical Services, Inc. (CTSi) of Lexington Park, Maryland, Top Aces has developed the AAMS as an open-architecture system that allows the rapid integration of various sensors and functions to meet customer requirements. Currently, the system includes active electronically-scanned array radar, helmet-mounted cueing system, infrared search and track, tactical datalink, advanced electronic attack pod, and passive radio frequency detection. The AAMS coordinates the functions of the systems to create a range of realistic adversary effects to maximize the benefit of “Red Air” aggressor training.

Development of AAMS by Top Aces and CTSi took four years, and its first application was the Douglas A-4N Skyhawks flown by Top Aces in support of air combat training for the Luftwaffe’s Typhoon fighters and other European air arms. The AAMS-outfitted A-4Ns were certified in 2021. Over the next year Top Aces intends to modify most of the F-16s it has acquired in order to fulfil its “Red Air” contracts with the U.S. Air Force. The AAMS is installed in the F-16s by Elbit Systems of America’s experienced MRO subsidiary M7 Aerospace of San Antonio, Texas.

“When you combine the power and avionics of the F-16 with the AAMS, it provides the most realistic and cost-effective training solution available to pilots flying fifth-generation fighters, such as the F-22 or F-35”, says Russ Quinn, President, Top Aces Corp., a former USAF Aggressor pilot with more than 3,300 F-16 flight hours. “Due to the plug-and-play nature of our AAMS, it also allows for the addition of new and emerging sensors well into the future, which provides the flexibility to upgrade our F-16s and meet the needs of the Air Force for years to come.”

Top Aces is one of a number of companies adding supersonic, fourth-generation fighters to their inventories to satisfy the considerable demands of the U.S. Air Force’s Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program, which was announced in October 2019.

Draken International also intends to operate F-16s on contracted aggressor missions, having concluded deals with the Netherlands and Norway to take 12 F-16A/B MLU aircraft from each nation. Norway retired its aircraft in early January this year, while the Netherlands is due to begin the process this year.