F-21A Kfir


On a bright sunny day, this F-21 Kfir was operated by ATAC and flown by former Navy Captain Carroll ‘Lex’ Lefon…and least in my mind. In fact, he last flew it on a crumby day with snow and high winds, unhelpful controllers who were poorly trained and set-up their approach radar console incorrectly, and not enough fuel. Three years after the crash I still miss him.

How I came to know him is an unusual story. Invited by a friend, a Marine fighter pilot, to join the Tiger Cruise aboard the USS Constellation, I stood on the bridge as we left Pearl Harbor and watched the ship’s Skipper, XO, OPS Officer and Navigator take all 90,000 tons of us down the narrow channel. As we passed the USS Arizona Memorial, I wondered what it must have been like to be attacked, as they were.

It was a Sunday morning—the day of the Japanese Attack, the day I left Pearl on the same ships 30 years earlier returning from Yankee Station and Vietnam, and the day we left Hawaii for San Diego in 2001. And that Sunday was three days before 9/11.

I soon found out what it was like to have your country attacked, and later found out that the Operations Officer on the bridge of the Connie, standing feet from where I was when we left Pearl, was the same man I admired as a writer and thinker on a Web site named NeptunusLex.com.

Lex was the best of the military bloggers (milbloggers), with a large audience of thoughtful, loyal readers—military, former military, and civilian. He wrote passionately about flying, and with equal passion about politics, ethics, his family, and society. He was, in a word, eloquent. Tears in your eyes eloquent.

He wrote once that he missed being in the saddle, and despite his career as an genuine F/A-18 fighter pilot and XO at TOPGUN, I suggested he might get a few kicks if he was willing to come out occasionally and fly mock air combat for our company. He agreed, and he did it with all the same passion and humor and precision and excellence as he did during his military flying. This in a little piston-powered aircraft with an airspeed redline at about the landing speed of the Kfir.

The bird that bit Lex, the Israeli-built Kfir-C2, N404AX, is a version of the French Dassault-Breguet Mirage III/5. Capable of Mach 2, but with relatively short endurance, it was delivered to the Navy as the F-21A for a role as an adversary in advanced air combat training, and later purchased and operated by Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), a civilian air-to-air warfare training organization.