A 63-year-old single-seat Hawker Hunter Mk 58 jet operated by contract adversary air provider Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, or ATAC, has crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, the Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed to The War Zone. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the pilot, but it's unclear what their current condition might be or whether they were able to eject from the aircraft before it hit the water.
The full FAA statement is as follows:
A single-engine Hawker crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 40 miles southeast of Wilmington International Airport in North Carolina around 5:15 p.m. local time today. Only the pilot was on board and was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates.
After investigators verify the aircraft registration number at the scene, the FAA will release it (usually on the next business day) on this web page. You can look up the aircraft by its registration number on this web page.
Neither agency identifies people involved in aircraft accidents.
Initial indications that an ATAC Hunter had crashed had appeared on social media earlier this evening. News of the crash was reportedly overhead first on publicly accessible air traffic control channels. Online flight tracking data suggests that the Hunter that crashed was one carrying the U.S. civil registration code N337AX and is leased to ATAC by Hunter Aviation International, which had disappeared from online flight tracking software. Another Mk 58, N334AX, was then tracked appearing to circle the area.
Various ATAC Hunters, among other aircraft, have been tracked flying in this area since last week, where they appear to have been supporting a Composite Unit Training Exercises , or COMPTUEX, for the U.S. Navy's supercarrier USS George H.W. Bush and its associated carrier strike group. A COMPTUEX is the final phase in a carrier strike group's workup before a deployment.
N571MA, an ex-Republic of Singapore Air Force KC-135R aerial refueling tanker now operated by private company Meta Aerospace, and N10FN, a Learjet 36 business jet registered to GH Equipment that also appears to be acting as an adversary in support of the COMPTUEX, were also visible online flying in the area at the time.
This would not be the first time an ATAC Hunter has crashed. There have been at least four other crashes involving the company's Mk 58s since 2012, including one that came down off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii in 2018.
ATAC's more recently acquired fleet of French-made Mirage F1 jets has also suffered a number of crashes in recent years, though there are no indications that there are any direct links between these incidents and mishaps involving the company's Hunters.
The War Zone has also reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as Textron, ATAC's parent company, for more information. The Sheriff's Office in North Carolina's North Hanover County, in which the city of Wilmington is located, told us that they were not immediately aware of the crash offshore.
We will continue to update this story as more details become available.
UPDATE: 6/21/2022 —
The FAA has now issued a formal initial report regarding the crash of the Hawker Hunter yesterday, confirming that the aircraft in question was N337AX and stating the immediate cause of the incident was "engine failure." The pilot of the aircraft did not suffer any injuries, according to the notice, which also described the damage to the aircraft as "substantial."
Separately, the U.S. Navy has confirmed that N337AX's pilot was able to eject before the aircraft hit the water and that the Hawker Hunter had been supporting the George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Group's COMPTUEX at the time. The full statement to The War Zone from the Navy is as follows:
On June 20, during the George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Group composite training unit exercise, a civilian pilot ejected from a commercial air services Hawker Hunter aircraft off the coast of North Carolina after reporting an engine malfunction. The pilot was recovered by a U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter and transported to the New Hanover Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. The incident remains under investigation at this time.
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