In the vast and often turbulent skies of global geopolitics, every maneuver carries an importance akin to a well-coordinated flight formation. Each decision, like a finely tuned adjustment of pitch or roll, contributes to the overall trajectory of a situation. Modern challenges, such as the escalating Ukrainian crisis, are like powerful jet streams that shape and often disrupt the flight plan of this global dynamic. In these shifting currents, air combat supremacy serves as a stabilizing rudder, determining the course of the narrative. Amid these airflows, one company has risen above the turbulence: Top Aces. Solidifying its command as a leader in adversary air training, or ‘Red Air,’ Top Aces boasts an unblemished safety record of over 110,000 accident-free flying hours. It’s not just maintaining altitude in the industry, but setting a new cruising level.
In the global theater of military preparedness, adversary air training – a critical component akin to a well-executed pre flight checklist – ensures that the right tactics, strategies, and technologies are on board. As we witness the world fasten its seatbelt with advanced simulation technologies, these become integral to flight training methodologies. They contribute significantly towards cost-effectiveness and amplify the learning scope, delivering real-world scenarios right in the comfort of the flight simulator. Top Aces, like a pilot adjusting to changing weather patterns, understands this shift and its profound implications. Each flight, each minute airborne is a wealth of experience to be harnessed. Against the backdrop of shrinking airtime for pilots, the company is not just keeping its engines running but pushing the throttle to maintain – and elevate – the quality of training. The ultimate aim? To provide an all-encompassing readiness, preparing pilots for any eventuality they may encounter in the unpredictable skies of real-world conflict situations.
At the heart of this narrative is David Bradshaw, a seasoned industry veteran and Director of Business Development Europe at Top Aces. Inspired by the iconic Top Gun film, a cinematic tribute to aerial warfare, Bradshaw’s journey began as a military pilot-in-training. Enthralled by the F-14 Tomcats soaring across the big screen, he soon discovered that reality was far more exhilarating than Hollywood’s portrayal. “The challenge and complexity of real life air combat, the level of dedication it demands, and the tactical acumen it develops—it transcends what any film could possibly capture,” says Bradshaw.
Top Aces has the unique distinction of being the first commercial provider to deliver contracted air training to the USAF using a supersonic, 4th Generation aircraft, specifically, the F-16 platform. It’s worth noting that while there are other supersonic aggressor aircraft in operation, they are largely older, 3rd Generation models like the F-5 and F-1. Thus, Top Aces’ use of the 4th Generation F-16 is a significant point to emphasize.
Furthermore, it is the only global company to operate the F-16 Advanced Aggressor Fighter (AAF) – a sophisticated upgrade of the aircraft boasting the unique open system architecture Advanced Aggressor Mission System (AAMS) at its heart. The AAMS equips the F-16 AAF with Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, helmet-mounted cueing systems, tactical datalinks, and high off boresight missile capabilities.
Top Aces’ fleet is a testament to their technical mastery. Leading their European fleet is the A-4N Skyhawk, equipped with the ultra-modern AAMS, shared by the F-16 AAF. Completing the line up, the highly modernized Alpha Jet complements the A-4N AAF while also providing advanced fast jet, live drop JTAC training capabilities. With this advanced fleet, Top Aces offers a caliber of adversary air training previously unattainable, solidifying their position as a leader in the industry.
Therefore, Top Aces capitalizes on its vast experience and technical expertise to provide top-tier, effective in-flight training. Even in an era of reduced airtime, the quality of training that pilots receive remains unparalleled. This strategy, a blend of efficiency and quality, sets Top Aces apart as a trendsetter in the industry. The company is committed to delivering diverse, high-quality expertise to its clients, resulting in more cost-effective solutions in the long run.
Reflecting on Top Aces’ growth, Bradshaw identifies the core pillars of its success. “Our strength lies in the superior training we offer, our ability to replicate modern adversary aircraft – predominantly the 4th Gen adversary fighters such as Su-27, Su-35, MiG 29, and the trust we’ve cultivated with Air Forces, Armies, and Navies from North America, through Europe to Australia. Our training encompasses not only the operation of the aircraft but also the pilot’s thought process and tactics, ensuring unmatched readiness for front-line combat aircrews. Our focus is not on simply training more, but on training more effectively.”
Top Aces fully appreciates that it’s not only about the technology, but it’s equally about the personnel running it. Bradshaw emphasizes this point, saying, “Our team includes a diverse group of veterans, of which over 80 are fighter pilots from a wide range of NATO Armed Forces, including American, German, British, and Canadian. Most of them are graduates from the esteemed Top Gun Fighter Weapons School or its NATO counterparts. The depth of expertise they bring enriches our ability to offer exceptional daily training. Their distinctive competencies and knowledge are further amplified in our environment, far from being undervalued or overlooked as can happen in commercial settings. Instead, we strategically deploy this invaluable wealth of experience for the benefit of training the upcoming generation of pilots.” Top Aces’ ability to capitalize on the value created through military training is an incalculable advantage, ensuring that such investment in skill development is never lost.
Top Aces recently fortified its market position through a strategic alliance with Blue Air Training. Bradshaw explains, “Our partnership with Blue Air Training marks a significant milestone. Their expertise in Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training, combined with our advanced aggressor aircraft, offers a comprehensive solution that is beneficial to aviators, soldiers, sailors, and marines worldwide. This collaboration underscores our commitment to preparing the next generation of combat leaders.”
Innovation lies at the heart of Top Aces’ philosophy, which is evident in their investment in Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) capabilities and their partnership with EpiSci, a developer of next-generation AI technologies. Bradshaw elaborates, “We’re prepared to offer Constructive training when required, thanks to our commitment to stay abreast of emerging trends. The field of AI is rapidly expanding, and we’re not merely keeping pace—we’re actively contributing to its development.”
As the geopolitical climate becomes more complex, the demand for innovative, robust, and realistic adversary air training will undoubtedly surge. With its strategic partnerships, investments in cutting-edge technology, and unwavering commitment to excellence, Top Aces is poised to reshape the future of air combat training. Adhering to full civil airworthiness certification standards in Europe and Canada, which surpass those of most industry companies, Top Aces is setting the benchmark for new programs worldwide.
Interviewed and edited: Katerina Urbanova, EIC @ ACE