Airborne Tactical Advantage Company. Lex was flying for them when he was killed. And tragically, CAPT Thomas Bennett was killed on May 18 flying for them as well. Now, anytime two accidents occur, heightened scrutiny of the organization is justified. But an automatic assumption that there is something wrong with the company would be an overreach.

I have to be honest here, I really hate writing anything having to do with the loss of an aircrew, but having done two of these with the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company in the headline within the last three months is pretty miserable. I have spent multiple days with the ATAC team at their NAWS Point Mugu operating location. These visits were in preparation for writing and shooting a large expose on the company for Combat Aircraft Magazine. I am lucky to be able to get around to quite a few military units across the US and I have to say, what ATAC does and how they do it is pretty damn amazing.

ATAC utilizes older fast jet aircraft than those that you would find in the active duty military, yet despite their age they are in pristine condition. Further, the ATAC fleet does not consist of just a few vintage jet trainers, it’s literally a full-sized aggressor wing, with aircraft based around the globe. As far as the talent involved in ATAC’s operations, the firm is stocked with decorated fast jet pilots with thousands of hours of flight time. Many of which served as weapons instructors, commanding officers, or even as CAG during their active duty military careers. Additionally their pilot corps also contains reserve officers who are still flying regularly mainline aggressor squadrons. The maintenance folks at ATAC also clearly display a high level of expertise, many with long and distinguished military careers under their belt before joining ATAC. I am not an NTSB investigator, or claiming to have any knowledge of what caused the May 18th crash of the ATAC Hawker Hunter that was on approach to land at NAWS Point Mugu. Nor did I directly know Thomas Bennett, the highly decorated Navy Captain killed in the crash, but I can tell you that after many interviews with their staff and observing their day-to-day operations that I cannot praise this company’s professionalism and apparent commitment to safety enough. The whole team seemed very confident in their mission and were fully cognizant of the risks involved as well as what is at stake on a daily basis for the company.

Go take a gander, and see what this company provides to our country.  Two fatal crashes in less than three months is a bit of a red flag. But two different types, in different locations, under different weather circumstances tells us that there was likely little in common between the incidents. And you can be sure ATAC is doing an awful lot of internal looking to ensure that they are not setting themselves up for accidents. 

I had the opportunity to briefly speak with the CEO of ATAC at Lex’s memorial. I was pretty impressed with him and his company’s dedication, both to their mission and to their people. ATAC has a prospective pilot applying for a flying position similar to Lex’s.  In fact, he was an acquaintance of Lex’s. So almost immediately after the crash, ATAC hired him with the mission to serve as a “Casualty Assistance Officer” to the family. Think about that. How many companies do you know that would provide that kind of support?

5 thoughts on “ATAC”

  1. I still have a lot of unresolved issues. Part of me wants to put it on ATAC. Part of me says it was the really poor GCA at Fallon. You would think with the weather there and the amount of traffic that they’d have a crack team backed by first class equipment. Lex was too good a pilot to shoot that many missed approaches and his blog spoke of times in poor weather when he would get the worst steers ever. He spoke of one incident that had he take the steer he would have augered in. I begged him to get out of that old bird; I just had an ugly bad feeling about that wouldn’t go away. To this day, I still think about Lex and say, “those bastards killed him”. Only problem, I can’t figure out which bastards.

    1. I am convinced that the bird did not kill Lex. GCA did. The Point Mugu incident is much more nebulous as the situation is entirely different from Lex’s. I can bet a lot of dollars to a donut, however, that ATAC is taking a very hard look at the Magoo accident because it tells a story that no one wants to hear told. That one was either the bird the pilot was riding, or a mid-air with the other AC he was in formation with (if the news we are getting is correct about being in formation).

      With Lex’s accident it was a fairly easy conclusion and I guessed it pretty close to what the FAA preliminary report said well before it came out (I’ve been around to many AFBs and heard that story before). It’s long past time the Navy had real ILSs at their air stations so the pilots themselves can shoot their approaches themselves (some do have them and why Fallon, the Navy’s version of Nellis is utterly beyond me). The Army had them at Rucker, but the Navy doesn’t at Fallon?

      Having said that, I’d have traded places with Lex in a New York minute. But then, that mindset and personality is required of a military pilot and is why Lex was doing that in the first place. He fought hard to go home, but if he had made it, he’d have been back in it the next day, unless he thought his lucky bag was finally empty.

  2. Unfortunately, QM, Lex dipped into his luck bag a lot at Fallon and on that damnable day, it came up empty. I still have a lot of anger about that; I had enormous respect for Lex and had high hopes that one day he would send his books to the Institute and become the next Coontz or Clancy…except Lex was better than both put together, and that ain’t no lie.

  3. As Lex said, there are two types of pilots at the end of their flying career. For one this is his last flight and he knows it. For the other, it’s his last flight and doesn’t. The latter doesn’t know it until the earth approaches at very high speed, or something similar. Lex was the latter.

    I’m not trying to offend you, but your anger is misplaced. Lex went down fighting to go home, but he was doing what he loved, and I think he would have gotten back on the horse the next day had he come out unscathed. If he had lived and recovered, I think he would have gotten back on the horse at the first opportunity. I know the type very well. I’m one of them, although my body betrayed me and washed me out, I’d have done exactly what Lex did. I’m saddened by Lex’s death, but I understand why he was at the scene of the accident and would have traded places in a heart beat.

    The guy that is really angry at the moment is the scope dope that crashed him. Having known a number of those guys, I know they take a screw up as a serious defeat because of both the the air frame and the guy that strapped it on.

  4. In Mexico, there is a legend that for every bridge built, the Devil demands one human life as payment.

    We just lost a PFC who was crushed between two tactical vehicles here in Korea. The T-33 and the old top heavy jeeps used to claim lots of lives back when my daddy was a one striper in the USAF.

    It’s best to let the accident investigation boards and the CSI-types do their job. Pointing fingers may make people feel good but it’s not about feelings it’s about fixing any safety no-go’s.

    Most of the time we beat the devil, somedays not so much.

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