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?