Ever wondered if you could buy your own fighter jet? Fancy being the Top Gun of the household? Well, wonder no more as we look at the practicalities of buying your own fighter jet and whether it’s even possible. The answer may surprise you…
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So can any civilian buy a fighter plane? The answer is a surprising ‘yes!’. As soon as an airplane is demilitarized it can be bought by members of the general public.
What is Demilitarizing
As you might imagine, military equipment belongs to the state. These items, which include tanks and airplanes, are controlled and can only be sold according to strict guidelines. ‘To prevent accidental injury and death’ governments therefore demilitarize their aircraft before it can be sold to a private purchaser.
This involves removing ‘any parts that could be used for a military function’. In other words, they take out all the guns, radar equipment and any other secret tech that would be dangerous in the hands of a civilian or enemy state.
The US demilitarization process is particularly rigorous, and involves slicing through parts of the aircraft to render it unfit to fly. This makes it exceptionally difficult to get your hands on a usable American fighter jet. But it can be done!
Other nations are not quite so brutal. For instance, in the UK demilitarization only involves removal of weapons, radar systems and classified instruments. These planes can then be sold to private companies who operate them as decoys to aid military pilot training or to individuals who want to keep aviation history alive.
Foreign Military Aircraft Sales
To make some cash, many countries sell their military aircraft to other nations without demilitarizing them. For many governments, this is the preferred disposal method for surplus aircraft.
These international sales help to strengthen relations between governments and allow the seller to provide after-sales support for the aircraft. But this is not always the reason. After the collapse of the Soviet program, the Russians were eager to get their hands on money.
They began to sell their military arsenal in swathes. A lot of it went to China, so buying a Russian jet back then was one of the easiest ways to get your hands on a Soviet fighter jet that would take you to the danger zone.
In the past, the US also sold a lot of their surplus aircraft to buyers around the world. Today, importing an exported aircraft is really the only way you might get your hands on an American fighter. Almost all of the 1,000 privately owned military jets in the United States have been imported from other countries.
How Much For A Demilitarized Fighter Jet
So how much will it set you back to squeeze a fighter jet into your garage? The price of a fighter varies dramatically. The majority of these demilitarized fighter jets will cost somewhere between $50,000 and $400,000 USD.
However, some jets are well in excess of this. In 2019 a F-16 Fighting Falcon was up for sale in Florida for an astounding $8.5 million dollars. You would be able to buy a fleet of Ferrari’s for the same price. But as a potential owner, there is more to consider than the upfront cost of these magnificent machines.
Once purchased, there is the cost of shipping (which the aircraft will have to be disassembled for), duty, licenses and type ratings to consider. This is all before you have even sat in the airplane. Once you buckle up, there is the ongoing cost of fuel, regular maintenance and sourcing rare parts for repairs.
The earlier mentioned Falcon was only built to withstand 8000 flight hours. And with 6000 hours on the clock at the time of sale, there were only 2000 hours left before costly structural upgrades would have to be performed.
Do I Need Experience in Military Jets?
Not necessarily, but it does speed things up. Generally you need a pilot’s license and a type rating for any airplane you want to fly without an instructor. But most ex-military planes fit into the experimental aircraft category and as such do not have a specific type rating associated with them.
In this case, you need at least 1000 hours flight time with 500 of those hours in the same class of aircraft. Considering that a taster lesson in an L-39 is $2999 for 20 minutes (if not more), this is an insane amount of money if you haven’t already got some of those hours in the bank.
Funnily enough if you accrue this many hours, and get your hands on a Russian fighter jet, you will have 950 hours more than the young soviet pilots who originally flew them!
If you’ve been a military pilot however, and you have a qualification in a supersonic turbojet powered aircraft, you don’t need to spend time hour-building and can just hop right in.
Are Fighter Jets Difficult To Fly?
With a massive amount of power at your fingertips, flying fighter jets certainly has its challenges. When flying at speeds in excess of 450mph, the margin for error is very small. But if the pilot or passenger is not accustomed to flying at these speeds, the experience can have some surprising effects on their mind and body.
Discerning which way is up is not as easy as you might think and with limited automation available, the pilot must both navigate and fly simultaneously. But perhaps the most difficult aspect of flying a fighter jet is managing G-force.
It would be a waste of power if you had one of these beauties and didn’t make the most of their aerobatic capabilities. But with this type of flying comes the effect of increased gravity on the body during tight turns.
Planes such as MiGs and Sokos can withstand up to 8gs, that’s 8x the normal force of gravity. Once a plane reaches 4gs and above, your body reaches the zone where it is more likely to pass out. This is called G-LOC and is caused by blood draining away from the brain.
Take a look at this video of a passenger experiencing G-LOC with the Blue Angels Aerobatics team:
Despite these difficulties, many jet pilots say that there is also a certain simplicity to flying a fighter. A little twin-engine Cessna can have up to 6 fiddly levers to operate, but in a fighter there is only one and the engine is typically much more reliable.
Celebrities With Fighter Planes
Being so expensive, fighter planes have of course caught the eye of some of the rich and famous. Tom Cruise, actor of Top Gun’s fighter pilot Maverick, is one such celebrity. Having inspired hoards of pilots to begin their journey into the sky, Cruise owns several aircraft and also has his own vintage fighter.
Although not a jet, Cruise’s P51 Mustang, named ‘Kiss Me Kate’, is one of only 2 flyable F-6Ks in the world. Rumor has it that audiences will get to see considerable footage of it in 2021’s Top Gun 2.
But Cruise is not the only Hollywood star to own a vintage fighter. Since working on the movie Fury, Brad Pitt has developed an interest in WW2 and purchased a Supermarine Spitfire in 2013.
Star Trek’s Michael Dorn was also part of this club and has owned 3 ex-military jets so far. Having flown with the Blue Angels, Dorn is an accomplished pilot and has had a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, a F-86 Sabre fighter jet and a Rockwell Sabreliner.
But you don’t have to be a celeb to be part of this club. Check out this video about the only civilian in the world to own a Harrier: