In February 2004 we had a visit with Advanced Training Systems International (ATSI) based at Williams – Gateway airport, Arizona. This is the former busy USAF training airfield previously known as Williams AFB, in Phoenix.
ATSI had a vision that with tightening military budgets, there would be a requirement for civil operated adversary training for the USAF, and ATSI were one of the first companies to see this potential. Their foresight has been proved correct, as there are now many companies offering this type of service to air arms across the world.
ATSI purchased a number of Douglas Skyhawk aircraft to fulfill this adversary role. This choice made sense for a good number of reasons.
- The Skyhawk had proved itself to be an ideal adversary jet due to its small size and nimble performance and had already been used in this role by the US Navy and Marine Corps, including at Top Gun.
- The Skyhawk was a relatively simple jet to operate and maintain, compared to more complex modern types.
- There were a lot of very experienced aircrew and groundcrew in the USA who had worked with Skyhawks for many years, so there was plenty of relevant knowledge.
- There was a large number of unused Skyhawks stored in the desert available to provide spare parts.
- The Israeli Air Force was in the process of disposing of it’s well maintained and up-to-date Skyhawk fleet as it transitioned to F-16s.
So, a fleet of former Israeli A-4N and TA-4Js was obtained, ready to provide adversary and other services to prospective military customers, and training commenced from Williams – Gateway, Arizona.
At the time of our visit in 2004, some of the aircraft were still being refurbished and modified for use, but there was a good number of Skyhawks available to support customer requirements. The aircraft were painted in two distinct colour schemes: a three coloured camouflage scheme favoured by Israel for use over their typical desert landscape, and a two-tone light grey scheme.
As a postscript to our visit, the vision of ATSI has been fully vindicated, as there is now a plethora of different companies who have contracts with various military organisations across the world. ATSI themselves were bought out in 2013 by Canada’s Discovery Air Defence Services, later re-named Top Aces, and some of the Skyhawks we saw with ATSI in 2004 are still flying with Top Aces today, see below.
In 2004 the ATSI Skyhawk fleet comprised:
|N250WL||TA-4J||Ex IDF 747||BuNo 152853|
|N251WL||TA-4J||Ex IDF 748||BuNo 153500|
|N252WL||TA-4J||Ex IDF 749||BuNo 153672|
|N260WL||A-4N||Ex IDF 321||BuNo 158730|
|N261WL||A-4N||Ex IDF 413||BuNo 159533|
|N262WL||A-4N||Ex IDF 444||BuNo 159545|
|N264WL||A-4N||Ex IDF||BuNo 159823|
|N265WL||A-4N||Ex IDF||BuNo 159544|
|N266WL||A-4N||Ex IDF||BuNo 159534|
|N267WL||A-4N||Ex IDF||BuNo 159051|
|N268WL||A-4N||Ex IDF 395||BuNo 159530|
|N269WL||A-4N||Ex IDF||BuNo 159536|