A Day with “Red Air” Professionals Draken International

Mirage and Skyhawk "adversaries" fly training missions with the US military out of North Carolina airport

United Fuel Cells

Draken International is an American provider of tactical fighter aircraft for contract air services including military and defense industry customers. With Draken’s fleet of Dassault Mirage F1Ms, Douglas A4 Skyhawks, and Aero Vodochody L159 aircraft, the company is actively supporting operations across the globe. In 2021 Draken International has signed a contract to bring yet more Lockheed Martin F-16s to its fast-expanding “red air” fleet, as the adversary air support contractor adds ex-Norwegian Vipers to the dozen former Dutch examples it acquired earlier last year. Up to 12 F-16s acquired from Norway will form part of this impressive private tactical jet air force, already one of the world’s largest, which also includes a dozen ex-South African Atlas Cheetahs and 22 ex-Spanish Air Force Dassault Mirage F1Ms, plus assorted other subsonic jets, as well as a deep backstock of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21s. Aaron Haase reports about his visit to Kinston, NC at the Kinston Regional Jetport.

By Aaron Haase

On February 8th, 2024 I was invited to visit the Draken International contingent that is currently stationed in Kinston, NC at the Kinston Regional Jetport. Lt. Col. Jerry “Jive” Kerby USAF (Ret.) was my liaison for the day where I got an up-close look at the Mirage F1M and the McDonnell Douglas A-4K, TA-4K and A-4N Skyhawk aircraft that the unit operates. While I have seen an F1 on static display before, I have never been able to see one take the air.

The day started upon my arrival at the airport where I was greeted by Jive (part of the mission on this day was to deliver a special gift to Jive for his amazing wife, LM “Lunar” Sawyer: more on this later). Jive took me around the building and the hangars, getting a wonderful look at how great their operation is. The planned flying for the day was a four-ship of two F1Ms and two A-4 Skyhawks (an TA-4K and an A-4N).

The pilots started planning for the flight by performing their pre-flight brief. This is the discussion for the mission that they would be performing with the military units that they would be working with. Once the brief concluded, the pilots got into their flight suits and headed out to the aircraft. Being early in the year, it was a beautiful sound to hear two Mirage F1s and two A-4 Skyhawks start up.

The aircraft participating in the “fight” were F1Ms N564EM and N575EM, and TA-4K N141EM and A-4N N162EM. Once the aircraft were ready, we took a golf cart to the ready area and watched the four aircraft line up for their pre-flight checks. It was really cool to see these four aircraft lined up together. Once ready, they taxied out for takeoff. The F1 has a very cool takeoff sound with a unique low rumble bass to it. Once they departed, two Skyhawks returned back from a sortie out of MCAS Cherry Point, these aircraft being a pair of A-4Ks (N146EM and N147EM). They arrived in a beautiful low fan break overhead into the pattern and taxied right past us to their parking spots.

The real treat of the day happened a few moments later when a team of Draken’s maintenance professionals towed out F1M N576EM for a high-powered engine test. The team did multiple engine checks at different throttle percentages and the F1M just roared in place. The culmination was getting to stand just feet away from an F1M running at full burner for a few minutes: it was an incredible, ground-shaking experience!

After about an hour, the aircraft returned from their sortie. The two F1s returned back in a great section break; the lead F1M N575EM did a low approach as did the TA-4K. The aircraft safely returned to their parking spots and shut down. Once the pilots exited the aircraft, we briefly spoke about their exploits of the day. It is truly great that we have such a professionally run outfit training our current military today.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, there was a secondary mission during the trip to Draken. Jive had contacted me a couple of weeks ago to get a framed picture that I had taken at Reno of him and Lunar and he wanted to give this photo to her for Valentine’s Day. I delivered the framed photo to him safely for him to transport back to their home. It was a great honor to do this for Lunar and Jive.

Once again, I can’t thank Jive and all the amazing people at Draken International enough for having me out to experience the thrill of seeing these warriors in their environment, and for all they did to assist me on this visit.



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