Contractor Pilot Dies in Jet Crash Outside Nellis Air Force Base

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Nellis Air Force Base sign
Nellis Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

A pilot with aerospace defense contractor Draken International died after one of its aircraft assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, crashed in north Las Vegas around 2:30 p.m. local time, according to base officials.

The aircraft was owned and operated by Draken U.S., and used in support of adversary air training, base officials said Monday.

The Florida-based company confirmed that the pilot died in the crash.

“The pilot’s identity has not yet been released; no other personnel were on board,” Draken said in a separate statement. “The men and women of Team Nellis send our deepest condolences to the teammates, friends and family of our Draken wingman.”

Draken did not identify the type of jet involved in the accident. The company is cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies as they conduct their crash investigation.

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The Clark County Fire Department and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police responded to the scene, according to Fox 5 KVVU-TV News. Videos posted on social media show a black plume of smoke near a residential area roughly four miles south of the base.

Nellis Air Force Base is home of the annual Red Flag training exercise, which prepares pilots and crew for warfighting scenarios across the globe. The base is also home to the Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 demonstration team.

Multiple defense companies also operate from the base for aggressor training, in which pilots -- often U.S. military retirees -- simulate fighting as enemy "red air" forces against active-duty Air Force pilots in air-to-air training.

In March 2020, Draken announced it had begun Dassault Mirage F1M fighter jet missions in support of Air Force combat readiness training at Nellis.

"The fully modernized Mirage F1Ms, predominantly flown by the Spanish Air Force in the past, now challenge U.S. and coalition fourth-and-fifth generation fighters over the skies of the Nevada Test and Training Range in the development of warfighter's tactics, techniques, and procedures," Draken said in a release at the time.

In 2019, the Air Force issued a contract for assault and combat training to Airborne Tactical Advantage Company LLC, a subsidiary of Textron Airborne Solutions; Air USA Inc.; Blue Air Training; Coastal Defense; Draken International; Tactical Air Support, known as TacAir; and Top Aces Corp.

Outsourcing the work to these companies cost $6.4 billion, according to the contract announcement.

Since then, a number of companies have been expanding their aggressor fleets.

In February, a Mirage F1B fighter crashed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; that aircraft belonged to Textron's Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, known as ATAC.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Thunderbirds Pilot Lost Consciousness Before Fatal Crash, Air Force Says

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