When it rains, it pours—MiG-29s, in this case. Not one but two of the Russian superfighters have recently flown in private hands in the U.S., making them one of the fastest, highest-climbing, quickest-accelerating, loudest and coolest private airplanes in the world, and humbling every billionaire’s Mach .92 Cessna Citation X and even the Mach .925 Gulfstream G650, due on the market next year.
The first private MiG-29 to fly was ex–U.S. Navy pilot Don Kirlin’s two-seat version of the Fulcrum air-superiority fighter. This past December, Kirlin’s MiG-29UB took off for the first time since he bought it in once-Soviet Kyrgystan in 1996, flying from his home base in Quincy, Ill. With a top speed somewhere beyond Mach 2.2 and a ceiling of nearly 60,000 feet, the Fulcrum, once intended to face off with the F-15 Eagle, was one of the USSR’s most advanced fighters—though still typically Soviet-crude in many ways—and a popular export to dozens of client countries.
It took several years and considerable paperwork for Kirlin to satisfy the FAA and various other government agencies that he could safely operate the MiG, but Kirlin has had ample experience putting N-numbers on foreign fast-movers. His Quincy company, Red Air, owns a considerable fleet of Aero Vodochody L-39 and L-59 Albatros and Super Albatros two-seat jet trainers, a MiG-21, a gaggle of Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet light strike fighters—and three more MiG-29s awaiting flight status.
Six weeks later, the vintage-aircraft museum Historic Flight, north of Seattle, Wash., flew its ex–Ukrainian air force MiG-29, also a two-seat UB. Historic’s struggles to import the airplane were if anything more extreme than Kirlin’s. The wings and engines were shipped safely from the Ukraine across the Atlantic, but the fuselage, en route separately via the Pacific, was seized in Hong Kong as military contraband in 2006. It took two years of negotiations for the Chinese to finally release the fuselage, after which the entire airplane was rebuilt by the highly regarded Morgan Aircraft Restorations in Arlington, Wash., with help from a team of experienced, ex-military MiG-29 mechanics flown over from Slovakia.
Restoration was complicated by the fact that the Russian air force grounded all of its MiG-29s after two 2008 crashes caused by vertical stabilizer failure due to corrosion, which required Morgan Aircraft to re-engineer the tail-to-fuselage interface. Historic Flight has two more MiG-29s in its hangars that will eventually be restored and offered for sale. (Now’s your chance to get in line. Bring lots of money.)