The effectiveness of current and future tactical aircraft increasingly depends on their ability to exchange information. A more fully connected airborne network is hence desirable. Waveforms such as the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) and Common Data Link (CDL) must be enhanced with mesh networking capabilities to meet desired efficiency, flexibility, and reliability requirements. Backward-compatibility is required from upgraded waveforms since budget constraints and other processes create the potential for some platforms to be upgraded after significant delays or not at all. This technology will greatly improve the communications of tactical aircraft during and after the upgrade process, and should be validated in high-fidelity, hardware-based testing during development with early radio vendor cooperation. To address this critical need, IAI and its collaborator, Harris Corporation, are developing a Mesh Enhanced Tactical Airborne Link (METAL) that is designed as a minimally intrusive enhancement to existing non-mesh topology waveforms such as MADL and CDL. Routing, topology management, and channel access methods are automatically and incrementally activated in METAL to improve network performance. This is done in part by allowing the legacy nodes to exist at arbitrary locations in the network instead of only at the network edge or communicating via special gateways. In addition to improving existing airborne networking technologies, this work can also be applied to cellular telephone and data networks, vehicular networks, and Wi-Fi networking technologies.