Sukhoi, MiG-29, L-39 Albatros or bombers from the Cold War - there are plenty of fighter planes to fly if you have the means.Two years ago, Ratan Tata cranked up the excitement at Aero India in Bangalore when he flew the multi-role fighter aircraft, the Boeing F/A-18. After the flight, the 73-year-old declared:
I would love to do it again." This wasn't the first time Tata was flying a fighter jet. In 2007, he'd taken off in the F-16 Fighting Falcon for a 35-minute sortie. What made it possible for Tata to fly a fighter plane in Indian airspace was an invitation from the aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, which was participating in India's biggest air show in Bangalore.
Like Tata, Naveen Jindal, the 43-year-old industrialist Member of Parliament from Kurukshetra, is among the few civilians to have flown a fighter - three in fact (an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, an F-16 and a French Rafale) - in India. He too co-piloted each of these at the Bangalore air show. Similarly, when actor Shahid Kapoor flew in a Lockheed Martin F-16, it was at the Aero India show. This is, in fact, the only way a civilian can fly a fighter jet in India: on the invitation of the Indian Air Force or through companies participating in the air show.
Other adrenaline junkies seeking this thrill have to do what Gautam Singhania, the chairman & managing director of Raymond, did. Singhania went to Ukraine to fly a Sukhoi Su-27 and an L-39 Albatros.
For men and women of means looking to fly a fighter plane, including bombers from the Cold War era, the sky is the limit - literally. There are about a dozen companies out there offering a Top Gun experience in Russia, Poland, Australia, US, Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, France and elsewhere. And, it doesn't matter if you have zero experience as a pilot.
Break the sound barrier
As of now, Russia is the only place where you can fly a real fighter jet at supersonic speed. The Sokol airbase in Nizhny Novgorod, 450 km from Moscow, which also happens to be the birth place of the MiG-29, has, since 2006, allowed tourists to fly MiG-29. After the Cold War and the financial crisis of the 1990s, the Sokol plant, which has manufactured over 13,500 combat aircraft, was in such dire straits that it even started producing cutlery to survive. Today, in tie-ups with private companies, the MiG manufacturer makes it possible for people with bulging wallets to break the sound barrier in military jets, some of which are still in active use in many countries.
One such company, Country of Tourism, offers three MiG-29 packages: aerobatic flight (25 minutes, with all main manoeuvres; $15,000 or about Rs 814,100), aerobatic flight (45 minutes, with strong aerobatic manoeuvres; $19,000 or about Rs 10 lakh), and 'Edge of Space' (55 minutes; $22,000 which comes to around Rs 12 lakh). Counted among the top ten adventures of the world, the 'Edge of Space' flight takes you 20-22 km up, right to the 'edge of space' from where, through the open glass cockpit of the MiG-29, you can see the curvature of the earth on one side and the deepening darkness of space on the other. This view is usually the prerogative of military pilots and cosmonauts.
But if it's the super-manoeuvrable fighter, the Sukhoi Su-27, that you're hoping to fly in the Moscow skies, then check out flyMiG.com which charges $16,580 (about Rs 900,000) for a flight.
If not Russia, then head to South Africa and try out another supersonic jet fighter - the MiG-21. For this, the person has to first become a member of the Supersonic Club of South Africa. Anybody can become a member provided the person is at least 16 years old, isn't taller than 6'7'' and weighs not more than about 125 kg. The 30- to 45-minute flight (recorded from engine start to engine shut down) takes off from the airport near South Africa's Kruger National Park, is offered round the year but has to be booked at least six months in advance. The six-day/five-night package from Incredible Adventures costs around $10,000 (about Rs 543,000).
Soar with the Albatros
If you'd rather pass the MiGs but are still desperate to fly a jet, there's the Czech-made jet trainer, the L-39 Albatros, which is also lighter on the pocket than the MiG-29.
South Florida businessman Doug Turner, whose company, Millionaire's Concierge, plans customised itineraries and experiences for jet-setters, offers the L-39 Albatros flights in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona and Southeastern United States. "A 30-minute flight costs $3,950 (about Rs 215,000) and an hour-long flight is for $5,950 (about Rs 323,000)," says Turner. Payment is made in full at the time of booking by American Express, Visa or MasterCard. The flight includes acrobatics - dives, split-S, aileron rolls, barrel rolls, and cloverleaf - and the pilot allows you to briefly take over the controls (most companies allow this). So far, Turner hasn't received queries from Indians.
Besides the modern-day jets, heavy fighter bombers from the Cold War are also inviting the daredevils. Among them is the subsonic Hawker Hunter which the Swiss Air Force operated from the late 1950s till the mid-1990s. Switzerland-based company, MiGFlug, gives you a chance to fly this over the Swiss Alps. A 25-minute flight costs euro 4,900 (about Rs 347,000), while a 45-minute flight comes for euro 6,900 (about Rs 488,000). You can also fly a Cold War fighter, like the English Electric Lightning, in Cape Town (South Africa). Want to gift a flight in a fighter to someone? Then check out Golden Moments which makes this possible across Europe.
All these flights are carried out with the consent of the government and the military. In most cases, payment is made through a direct bank transfer, so first check the credentials of the company.
What it takes to fly
It's not just the young and the super fit who can fly a fighter jet. Both men and women in the age of 18 to 70 can fly, provided they are in good health.
There are, of course, concerns about how a person will take to the acrobatics. Experience has shown the trainers that less than 5 per cent of people are sick during the flight. Besides, the pilots modify the manoeuvres depending on how the person is doing.
Now, the key question: Is it dangerous to fly a fighter jet? Yes. But then, as one operator puts is, "So is crossing the street and driving to the airport." Even so, it is heartening to know that most companies have a travel insurance cover.
TAKE WING, For details, visit:
FIT TO FLY?
Consult your doctor before you decide to fly a fighter jet
People who have undergone heart, brain or back surgery are not allowed to fly
Avoid alcohol for 24 hours before the flight
Eat light meals on the day of the flight
Avoid anti-nausea medication, as it tends to make you sick
Source: Veenu Sandhu | New Delhi, Business Standard. News - 26 April 2013
Photo: The Ukrainian Air Force to fly a Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker Fighter Aircraft (Photo by prideaircraft.com)