A Private Air Force of 46 F-18's

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MIflyer

1st Lieutenant
6,065
11,497
May 30, 2011
Cape Canaveral
For the last 30+ years, Don Kirlin has been flying for the airlines, working on real estate deals, setting up the world's biggest skydiving meets, and building a private air force the likes of which even he has a hard time believing is possible. In March 2020, The War Zone was among the first to report that his company would be purchasing multiple squadrons worth of surplus Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornets to be used in the contractor adversary air support role here in the United States. In that role, they would primarily fly against U.S. military fighter pilots, replicating aerial threats from potential enemy nations. So basically, they are bad guys for hire, but strictly for training and development work.
Now, not only do we have all the details on that purchase, which is even more impressive than it initially seemed, but we talked at length with the entrepreneur owner of Air USA, located in Quincy, Illinois, about his company's past and what is turning into a remarkable, if not downright historic, future.
Don Kirlin imported his first foreign military jet, and L-39 Albatross, in 1994, at a time when doing so was an extremely complex and convoluted affair full of pitfalls and unknowns. Since then, he has repeated the process dozens of times over and was the first owner of a private MiG-29 Fulcrum in the United States, among a long list of other exotic flying firsts. He now holds eight licenses with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), allowing him to own military machine guns and cannons, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition to fire through them.
Don Kirlin with members of his Air USA team., Air USA
He was also one of the early pioneers of the then-fledgling, if not wholly experimental, adversary air support market. In the early 2000s, he joined forces with the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), which was blazing a trail with their contracts with the Navy to supply fast jet targets and electronic warfare pod toting adversaries that mimic everything from enemy cruise missiles to fighters for Navy and Marine fighter aircraft and Navy surface combatants to train against.
During those early years, Air USA worked as a subcontractor for ATAC, flying the vast majority of the contracted subsonic adversary support flight hours. So, Kirlin and his company's experience in what is now an exploding adversary support marketplace dates back to its very genesis.
Prior to the Hornet purchase, Kirlin's most outlandish import was not just one, but four MiG-29 Fulcrums. He was the first private owner of one of these jets in the United States. , Air USA
Fast forward to 2020 and Kirlin now owns an impressive fleet of ex-military aircraft that perform a wide number of roles for the Defense Department, from training Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), the modern designation for Forward Air Controllers on the ground, to saturating the sensor systems of America's most advanced tactical fighters with aggressor adversaries in the air. With the individual contracts that will underpin the Air Force's gargantuan adversary air support tender about to doled out, Air USA's operation has to grow in capacity and complexity in order to even attempt to meet demand.
Enter the most spectacular private aircraft purchase of all time—Air USA's acquisition of all of the Royal Australian Air Force's remaining F/A-18A/B Hornets. Canada had bought 25 prior to this deal going through. The jets Air USA is slated to receive, 46 in total, of which 36 are flying today, will be replaced by the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter within the RAAF's ranks and thus will be totally retired from service by the end of 2021.
Aussie F/A-18A/B Hornets and their replacements, F-35As. , © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
Although the terms of the deal have not been disclosed [at the time this was written in 2020], the purchase does include all of the RAAF's F/A-18 spare parts inventory and test equipment, valued at over a billion dollars alone, according to Kirlin. Those parts will be incredibly valuable as Air USA is planning on putting every single airframe it receives back into service—not just the 36 aircraft that are flyable today, but the other 10 that are not, as well.
Those jets just need inspections and are not parted out or grounded for any other reasons. This will allow Air USA to operate at least three fully outfitted squadrons of the 4th generation fighters at all times, which Kirlin hopes will be forward deployed to key bases around the United States where they will primarily help give fleet pilots, testers, and tactics developers, a run for their money in the air-to-air combat arena.
6256362cf1f38.png

© Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
These are not Hornets in some dated configuration, either. The RAAF spent a lot of money keeping its legacy Hornet fleet relevant until replacements arrived. One of the most important capabilities the jets come with is the bolt-on Elta EL-L/8222 (license-built in the U.S. under the L3Harris Advanced Capability Pod name) electronic warfare pod. These Israeli-designed pods are pretty much the world standard in modular self-protection jamming systems and are used on the Pentagon's own aggressor fleet, as well as by various nations around the globe on frontline aircraft. You can learn just how powerful this system is, being able to turn even highly antiquated aircraft into formidable and deadly aerial threats, especially when paired with unique tactics, in this past piece of ours.
All of Air USA's secondhand Hornets feature the AN/APG-73 radar—the same one that is found on the F/A-18C/D and early F/A-18E/F Super Hornets—that differs from the less capable AN/APG-65 radar the A/B Hornet was originally equipped with. The AN/APG-73 remains a very capable radar set and is largely superior to anything else on the adversary market at this time. Kirlin also informs us that the radar and electronic warfare pod are integrated in such a way that the aircraft can simultaneously jam and engage (jam and shoot) enemy targets, which he doesn't believe exists anywhere else on the adversary market and is a critical capability when it comes to mimicking more advanced foreign fighter threats.
AN/APG-73 Radar in the nose of an F/A-18 Hornet. , Raytheon
The jets also come with their Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28 LITENING advanced targeting pods, which are hugely capable in the air-to-ground targeting and non-traditional reconnaissance realm, as well as for positively identifying aircraft visually at long ranges. You can read all about this function and its value in this past piece of ours. In addition, the Hornets come with 68 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS), which offers helmet-mounted display capability that drastically increases a pilot's situational awareness and high-off-boresight targeting for close-range air-to-air missiles. This will make it easier for these aggressor jets to simulate foreign capabilities of a similar nature.
Overall, Kirlin informs us that that the Aussie Hornets are being imported in exactly the same configuration as they are flying operationally today the RAAF. Nothing is being removed, even the jet's Link 16 data-link system and its internal M61 20mm Vulcan cannon are staying put.
6256369392538.png
PrivateF-18.png
 
For the last 30+ years, Don Kirlin has been flying for the airlines, working on real estate deals, setting up the world's biggest skydiving meets, and building a private air force the likes of which even he has a hard time believing is possible. In March 2020, The War Zone was among the first to report that his company would be purchasing multiple squadrons worth of surplus Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornets to be used in the contractor adversary air support role here in the United States. In that role, they would primarily fly against U.S. military fighter pilots, replicating aerial threats from potential enemy nations. So basically, they are bad guys for hire, but strictly for training and development work.
Now, not only do we have all the details on that purchase, which is even more impressive than it initially seemed, but we talked at length with the entrepreneur owner of Air USA, located in Quincy, Illinois, about his company's past and what is turning into a remarkable, if not downright historic, future.
Don Kirlin imported his first foreign military jet, and L-39 Albatross, in 1994, at a time when doing so was an extremely complex and convoluted affair full of pitfalls and unknowns. Since then, he has repeated the process dozens of times over and was the first owner of a private MiG-29 Fulcrum in the United States, among a long list of other exotic flying firsts. He now holds eight licenses with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), allowing him to own military machine guns and cannons, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition to fire through them.
Don Kirlin with members of his Air USA team., Air USA
He was also one of the early pioneers of the then-fledgling, if not wholly experimental, adversary air support market. In the early 2000s, he joined forces with the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), which was blazing a trail with their contracts with the Navy to supply fast jet targets and electronic warfare pod toting adversaries that mimic everything from enemy cruise missiles to fighters for Navy and Marine fighter aircraft and Navy surface combatants to train against.
During those early years, Air USA worked as a subcontractor for ATAC, flying the vast majority of the contracted subsonic adversary support flight hours. So, Kirlin and his company's experience in what is now an exploding adversary support marketplace dates back to its very genesis.
Prior to the Hornet purchase, Kirlin's most outlandish import was not just one, but four MiG-29 Fulcrums. He was the first private owner of one of these jets in the United States. , Air USA
Fast forward to 2020 and Kirlin now owns an impressive fleet of ex-military aircraft that perform a wide number of roles for the Defense Department, from training Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), the modern designation for Forward Air Controllers on the ground, to saturating the sensor systems of America's most advanced tactical fighters with aggressor adversaries in the air. With the individual contracts that will underpin the Air Force's gargantuan adversary air support tender about to doled out, Air USA's operation has to grow in capacity and complexity in order to even attempt to meet demand.
Enter the most spectacular private aircraft purchase of all time—Air USA's acquisition of all of the Royal Australian Air Force's remaining F/A-18A/B Hornets. Canada had bought 25 prior to this deal going through. The jets Air USA is slated to receive, 46 in total, of which 36 are flying today, will be replaced by the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter within the RAAF's ranks and thus will be totally retired from service by the end of 2021.
Aussie F/A-18A/B Hornets and their replacements, F-35As. , © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
Although the terms of the deal have not been disclosed [at the time this was written in 2020], the purchase does include all of the RAAF's F/A-18 spare parts inventory and test equipment, valued at over a billion dollars alone, according to Kirlin. Those parts will be incredibly valuable as Air USA is planning on putting every single airframe it receives back into service—not just the 36 aircraft that are flyable today, but the other 10 that are not, as well.
Those jets just need inspections and are not parted out or grounded for any other reasons. This will allow Air USA to operate at least three fully outfitted squadrons of the 4th generation fighters at all times, which Kirlin hopes will be forward deployed to key bases around the United States where they will primarily help give fleet pilots, testers, and tactics developers, a run for their money in the air-to-air combat arena.
View attachment 665152
© Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
These are not Hornets in some dated configuration, either. The RAAF spent a lot of money keeping its legacy Hornet fleet relevant until replacements arrived. One of the most important capabilities the jets come with is the bolt-on Elta EL-L/8222 (license-built in the U.S. under the L3Harris Advanced Capability Pod name) electronic warfare pod. These Israeli-designed pods are pretty much the world standard in modular self-protection jamming systems and are used on the Pentagon's own aggressor fleet, as well as by various nations around the globe on frontline aircraft. You can learn just how powerful this system is, being able to turn even highly antiquated aircraft into formidable and deadly aerial threats, especially when paired with unique tactics, in this past piece of ours.
All of Air USA's secondhand Hornets feature the AN/APG-73 radar—the same one that is found on the F/A-18C/D and early F/A-18E/F Super Hornets—that differs from the less capable AN/APG-65 radar the A/B Hornet was originally equipped with. The AN/APG-73 remains a very capable radar set and is largely superior to anything else on the adversary market at this time. Kirlin also informs us that the radar and electronic warfare pod are integrated in such a way that the aircraft can simultaneously jam and engage (jam and shoot) enemy targets, which he doesn't believe exists anywhere else on the adversary market and is a critical capability when it comes to mimicking more advanced foreign fighter threats.
AN/APG-73 Radar in the nose of an F/A-18 Hornet. , Raytheon
The jets also come with their Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28 LITENING advanced targeting pods, which are hugely capable in the air-to-ground targeting and non-traditional reconnaissance realm, as well as for positively identifying aircraft visually at long ranges. You can read all about this function and its value in this past piece of ours. In addition, the Hornets come with 68 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS), which offers helmet-mounted display capability that drastically increases a pilot's situational awareness and high-off-boresight targeting for close-range air-to-air missiles. This will make it easier for these aggressor jets to simulate foreign capabilities of a similar nature.
Overall, Kirlin informs us that that the Aussie Hornets are being imported in exactly the same configuration as they are flying operationally today the RAAF. Nothing is being removed, even the jet's Link 16 data-link system and its internal M61 20mm Vulcan cannon are staying put.
View attachment 665153View attachment 665154
Wow.
 
F-117's were "phased out" by the USAF in late 2008 but in a reality kept flying in combat roles, such as against ISIS. They supposedly were sent to the Tonapa NV base that had been used by the Red Eagle squadron and where the F-117's were first formed formed up into a unit. And supposedly they were dismantled.

I've always wondered how many the IDF ended up with.
 
For the last 30+ years, Don Kirlin has been flying for the airlines, working on real estate deals, setting up the world's biggest skydiving meets, and building a private air force the likes of which even he has a hard time believing is possible. In March 2020, The War Zone was among the first to report that his company would be purchasing multiple squadrons worth of surplus Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornets to be used in the contractor adversary air support role here in the United States. In that role, they would primarily fly against U.S. military fighter pilots, replicating aerial threats from potential enemy nations. So basically, they are bad guys for hire, but strictly for training and development work.
Now, not only do we have all the details on that purchase, which is even more impressive than it initially seemed, but we talked at length with the entrepreneur owner of Air USA, located in Quincy, Illinois, about his company's past and what is turning into a remarkable, if not downright historic, future.
Don Kirlin imported his first foreign military jet, and L-39 Albatross, in 1994, at a time when doing so was an extremely complex and convoluted affair full of pitfalls and unknowns. Since then, he has repeated the process dozens of times over and was the first owner of a private MiG-29 Fulcrum in the United States, among a long list of other exotic flying firsts. He now holds eight licenses with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), allowing him to own military machine guns and cannons, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition to fire through them.
Don Kirlin with members of his Air USA team., Air USA
He was also one of the early pioneers of the then-fledgling, if not wholly experimental, adversary air support market. In the early 2000s, he joined forces with the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), which was blazing a trail with their contracts with the Navy to supply fast jet targets and electronic warfare pod toting adversaries that mimic everything from enemy cruise missiles to fighters for Navy and Marine fighter aircraft and Navy surface combatants to train against.
During those early years, Air USA worked as a subcontractor for ATAC, flying the vast majority of the contracted subsonic adversary support flight hours. So, Kirlin and his company's experience in what is now an exploding adversary support marketplace dates back to its very genesis.
Prior to the Hornet purchase, Kirlin's most outlandish import was not just one, but four MiG-29 Fulcrums. He was the first private owner of one of these jets in the United States. , Air USA
Fast forward to 2020 and Kirlin now owns an impressive fleet of ex-military aircraft that perform a wide number of roles for the Defense Department, from training Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), the modern designation for Forward Air Controllers on the ground, to saturating the sensor systems of America's most advanced tactical fighters with aggressor adversaries in the air. With the individual contracts that will underpin the Air Force's gargantuan adversary air support tender about to doled out, Air USA's operation has to grow in capacity and complexity in order to even attempt to meet demand.
Enter the most spectacular private aircraft purchase of all time—Air USA's acquisition of all of the Royal Australian Air Force's remaining F/A-18A/B Hornets. Canada had bought 25 prior to this deal going through. The jets Air USA is slated to receive, 46 in total, of which 36 are flying today, will be replaced by the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter within the RAAF's ranks and thus will be totally retired from service by the end of 2021.
Aussie F/A-18A/B Hornets and their replacements, F-35As. , © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
Although the terms of the deal have not been disclosed [at the time this was written in 2020], the purchase does include all of the RAAF's F/A-18 spare parts inventory and test equipment, valued at over a billion dollars alone, according to Kirlin. Those parts will be incredibly valuable as Air USA is planning on putting every single airframe it receives back into service—not just the 36 aircraft that are flyable today, but the other 10 that are not, as well.
Those jets just need inspections and are not parted out or grounded for any other reasons. This will allow Air USA to operate at least three fully outfitted squadrons of the 4th generation fighters at all times, which Kirlin hopes will be forward deployed to key bases around the United States where they will primarily help give fleet pilots, testers, and tactics developers, a run for their money in the air-to-air combat arena.
View attachment 665152
© Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
These are not Hornets in some dated configuration, either. The RAAF spent a lot of money keeping its legacy Hornet fleet relevant until replacements arrived. One of the most important capabilities the jets come with is the bolt-on Elta EL-L/8222 (license-built in the U.S. under the L3Harris Advanced Capability Pod name) electronic warfare pod. These Israeli-designed pods are pretty much the world standard in modular self-protection jamming systems and are used on the Pentagon's own aggressor fleet, as well as by various nations around the globe on frontline aircraft. You can learn just how powerful this system is, being able to turn even highly antiquated aircraft into formidable and deadly aerial threats, especially when paired with unique tactics, in this past piece of ours.
All of Air USA's secondhand Hornets feature the AN/APG-73 radar—the same one that is found on the F/A-18C/D and early F/A-18E/F Super Hornets—that differs from the less capable AN/APG-65 radar the A/B Hornet was originally equipped with. The AN/APG-73 remains a very capable radar set and is largely superior to anything else on the adversary market at this time. Kirlin also informs us that the radar and electronic warfare pod are integrated in such a way that the aircraft can simultaneously jam and engage (jam and shoot) enemy targets, which he doesn't believe exists anywhere else on the adversary market and is a critical capability when it comes to mimicking more advanced foreign fighter threats.
AN/APG-73 Radar in the nose of an F/A-18 Hornet. , Raytheon
The jets also come with their Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28 LITENING advanced targeting pods, which are hugely capable in the air-to-ground targeting and non-traditional reconnaissance realm, as well as for positively identifying aircraft visually at long ranges. You can read all about this function and its value in this past piece of ours. In addition, the Hornets come with 68 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS), which offers helmet-mounted display capability that drastically increases a pilot's situational awareness and high-off-boresight targeting for close-range air-to-air missiles. This will make it easier for these aggressor jets to simulate foreign capabilities of a similar nature.
Overall, Kirlin informs us that that the Aussie Hornets are being imported in exactly the same configuration as they are flying operationally today the RAAF. Nothing is being removed, even the jet's Link 16 data-link system and its internal M61 20mm Vulcan cannon are staying put.
View attachment 665153View attachment 665154
Get to Ukraine now.... please
 
If these were imported to the US, he'd have to jump through hoops because of the gun. Everything else would probably be ok. When I worked in Mojave my former employer had 4 F-4s, we did all kind of contracts with them.

As far as the F-117A? 2 are reported to be flying and have been seen at Tonopah, Nellis and Palmdale Plant 42.

 
From Air International
 

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Even briefly looking at this, it almost looks like the USAF/USN outsourced some of its aggressor squadrons?
 
I'm not sure why, but that doesn't sit right with me. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but it seems there should be some things that were previously called "inherently governmental"
 
The government uses contractors very extensively. At one time most of the USAF C-5A's were flown by civilian contract pilots. Contractors are used to maintain USAF aircraft and to overhaul components. Space launches are conducted by contractors under direct USAF or NASA control, and the degree of control exercised by the government in that area has decreased significantly over the last 35 years. Military bases usually are maintained by government personnel but Cape Canaveral and KSC are maintained by contractors.

Of course, use of contractors in combat roles raises some hackles for some people but don't forget that the American Volunteer Group were contractors to the Chinese Government, so it really is nothing new.
 
The government uses contractors very extensively. At one time most of the USAF C-5A's were flown by civilian contract pilots. Contractors are used to maintain USAF aircraft and to overhaul components. Space launches are conducted by contractors under direct USAF or NASA control, and the degree of control exercised by the government in that area has decreased significantly over the last 35 years. Military bases usually are maintained by government personnel but Cape Canaveral and KSC are maintained by contractors.

Of course, use of contractors in combat roles raises some hackles for some people but don't forget that the American Volunteer Group were contractors to the Chinese Government, so it really is nothing new.
Agree with all points except that one! I'd like to know your reference. For many years I worked with former C-5 pilots, FEs and Loadmasters, no mention of civilian contracts and I doubt the USAF would allow civilian contracts to operate such a large and important asset!!!

C-130s?!? Yes - I worked on a program where a former employer operated government owned C-130s for the Navy.

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I was told by a USAF officer that most C-5A pilots were contractor back in the mid-70's. I had no knowledge of it myself, although when I went to ROTC camp at Charleston in 1972 there was no mention of it at the 437th MAW.

At Patrick AFB in the early 2000's at least one of the doctors working family pratice was a former USAF flight surgeon brought back as a contractor. That was useful to me when the unnecessary blood pressure and cholesterol drugs the previous Dr prescribed for me led the FAA to conclude they were not going to give me a 3rd class medical certificate. The Flt Surgeon understood the problem right away. Unfortunately his letter to the FAA still did not convince them.
 

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