James "Chef" Barlow

James "Chef" Barlow

James "Chef" Barlow

Founder & CEO, Blue Air Training Corp.

2024 Alumni Hall of Fame Inductee

BS Marketing ’95

James “Chef” Barlow is a retired decorated U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and a pioneering entrepreneur who revolutionized how the U.S. and allied nations train Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Fighter Pilots by creating a civilian-owned, weaponized training air force.

He is founder and recently retired CEO of Blue Air Training Corp., an industry-leading Contract Air Services provider and the first of its kind.

Barlow began his active-duty Air Force career as a Contracting Officer at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. In his off hours while waiting to attend flight school, he built flight time moonlighting as a Bush Pilot, ferrying hunters and fly fishermen into the rugged Alaskan tundra. After graduating in the top of his flight school class, he was one of the chosen few to fly the A-10 Warthog, likely the most famous ground attack fighter in aviation history. As a combat ready wingman flying the “Hawg,” he got the callsign “Chef” because, like so many entrepreneurs, he “always had something cooking.” 

In 2007, Barlow deployed to Afghanistan and quickly became aware that a lack of air support created a bottleneck in training and, as a result, a shortfall in the quantity of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs). Barlow proposed contracting former military pilots to fly retired military aircraft and provide this invaluable training. The next year, Barlow founded Blue Air Training to fill this need, sparking a multi-billion-dollar global industry. 

Blue Air Training has executed more than 45,000 airstrikes, trained nearly every JTAC in the U.S., Canada, Germany, the UK and Australia and saved taxpayers an estimated total of more than $1 billion. 

Blue Air Training has won numerous awards, including the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Veteran Owned Business of the Year. It has made the Seminole 100 list of businesses owned or led by Florida State University alumni five times, with two No. 1 rankings. It also has made Inc. magazine’s “500-5000” list of fastest-growing privately held businesses in the U.S. and its “Vet 50” list of top veteran-owned businesses in the country.

In March of 2022, Blue Air Training merged with Top Aces Inc. of Canada to bring the world’s leading Close Air Support and Adversary Air providers under one roof. The combined companies have flown more than 135,000 flight hours, with fighter and attack aircraft based in five countries. 

Barlow grew up in Tampa, Florida and attended FSU, where he was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and served as an Air Force ROTC cadet. He graduated from the College of Business in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. 

He continues to serve on the executive committee of the College of Business Board of Governors.