A Hawker Hunter Mk 58 aggressor jet belonging to private contractor Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, or ATAC, came to rest on a grassy patch at Naval Air Station Key West yesterday after an aborted takeoff. The exact status of the aircraft is unknown, but the pilot was not injured in the incident.
"An MK-58 Hawker Hunter aircraft aborted take-off from NAS Key West’s Boca Chica Field at approximately 9:50 a.m. Dec. 6, 2023," a Navy spokesperson at Naval Air Station Key West (NAS Key West) confirmed to The War Zone today. "The aircraft landed in a grassy field just off the end of the runway on Navy property. The pilot is uninjured."
A post on NAS Key West's official Facebook account yesterday said an "aircraft incident" had occurred, but provided no further details about the type of aircraft or what had happened. The mishap is now under investigation.
"ATAC MK-58 Hawker Hunters are at NAS Key West in a training capacity," the spokesperson for NAS Key West added today. Naval Air Station Key West is situated on Boca Chica Key in the Florida Keys and is a major training hub for the Navy's tactical jet fleets.
Exactly what type of training the Hunter was supporting at the time of the incident is unknown. However, ATAC's fleet of ex-Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunters, which were all built more than six decades ago, are regular participants in U.S. Navy exercises in and around the United States, as well as at locations around the world. They are typically used to play the role of enemy combat jets and subsonic cruise missiles, including during Composite Training Unit Exercises, or COMPTUEXs, which are the final phase for carrier strike groups working up to their next operational deployments.
ATAC Hunters also fly in those same roles in support of U.S. military test and evaluation activities.
Five Mk 58s operated by ATAC have crashed in separate mishaps since 2012. The pilots died in two of those incidents, which occurred in 2012 and 2014. The former U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet pilot at the controls of the Hunter that went down in 2017 survived and you can read more about him and that incident in this past War Zone piece. The pilots of the Mk 58s that went down the following year and then in 2022 also survived, though the latter individual suffered a major injury.
Another one of ATAC's Hunters was involved in a runway excursion incident at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma (MCAS Yuma) in Arizona in 2021. The pilot of that aircraft escaped that mishap uninjured.
ATAC flies other aircraft as aggressors in support training exercises and test and evaluation activities, as well. A major component of its fleet is now made up of ex-French Air Force Dassault Mirage F1 jets, two of which have also crashed in recent years.
Whether or not the Hawker Hunter involved in yesterday's incident at NAS Key West is in a condition where it could be put back into use remains to be seen.
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