You Can Buy Paul Allen's MiG-29 Fulcrum Jet Fighter
One of the late billionaire's most outrageous toys is being sold off and the new owner will have the highest performing personal plane on the planet.
Microsoft co-founder, prolific entrepreneur, and a man with an absolute love for all things that fly, Paul Allen, died last October after a fight with cancer. He was just 65. Portions of his empire are beginning to be slowly sold off, including the world-record breaking "Roc" satellite-launcher aircraft and the company built around it known as Stratolaunch. Now, one of the most impressive pieces of his incredible collection of aircraft, many of which are part of the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field in Everett, Washington has been put on the market. It's widely understood to be the finest example of a MiG-29 Fulcrum in private hands anywhere in the world, and maybe even the finest regardless of ownership arrangement.
The MiG-29 in question is a two-seat UB model that lacks the single-seat Fulcrum's radar. The aircraft, which was used for training, among other roles, was built at the tail-end of the Cold War, in 1989. It saw service with the Ukrainian Air Force during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Eventually, Ukraine refurbished and demilitarized the jet and offered it for sale on the international market around 2005.
It was imported into the United States—one of a very limited number of Fulcrums to have done so—by famed warbird aficionado John Sessions, who runs the Historic Flight Foundation, which is also located at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. Just getting the aircraft to the U.S. was a bizarre and harrowing ordeal, let alone reassembling it, restoring it, and test flying it. The fuselage was impounded in Hong Kong and sat to degrade in a salty-air warehouse for a long period of time before Sessions and his team could finally get it to the Pacific Northwest. You can and should read all about this crazy ordeal in this awesome article.
Sessions meticulously restored the MiG-29UB to an extent never seen before. It was likely the 'cleanest' example of a MiG-29 anywhere in the world once it was done. In 2011, Paul Allen officially bought the jet for an unknown sum of money, but it was absolutely multiple millions of dollars. Sessions had stated the project cost at least $6 million. The Soviet-era fourth generation fighter would become a crown jewel in Allen's Flying Heritage Museum, and fly it would, making regular zoom climbs and flybys over Paine Field in front of onlookers over the years. Allen also owns an F-5B Freedom Fighter and throngs of warbirds, private jets, floatplanes, and helicopters, the latter of which serviced his travels abroad and ferried him and his guests to his incredible superyachts Octopus and Tatoosh.
The "Vulcan Air Force," a reference to Paul Allen's holding company Vulcan, Inc., now appears to be in the early stages of being at least partially liquidated. With this in mind, it's not surprising that the MiG, which has very little real practical use and can burn through a full tank of a thousand gallons of jet fuel in a matter of minutes, while also representing a large initial investment, is being put up for sale now that Paul has passed away.
Make sure to watch this sweet Facebook video with cockpit footage of the MiG-29 doing some low-level flying over the Rockies and more, as well as the videos below.
The jet is being marketed by aircraft brokers and aviation consulting firm MENTE Group that is based in Dallas, Texas. Their listing states that the airframe only has 570 hours of total time, with each of its Klimov RD-33 afterburning turbofan engines having accrued just 60 hours since being totally overhauled. That number also represents the total flight time this aircraft has flown since it was brought back to life in the United States. Both of the aircraft's K2 K36DM ejection seats are also hot. Avionics include an ADS-B transponder and a Garmin 530 GPS. All of the gauges and placards in English.
We have reached out to MENTE Group to get more details and a list price on this incredibly unique aircraft, one that represents the absolute pinnacle of aerospace performance available to the private citizen—the MiG-29 is a Mach 2+, 9G+ design—but we haven't heard back just yet.
Often people think these aircraft would be hot items for private aggressor contractors that are currently expanding exponentially in size to meet U.S. military and its allies' demand for adversary support services. This simply isn't the case. The MiG-29s can be simulated by other high-performance aircraft in the fleet and these contractors aren't there to get into groveling dogfights as much as to provide target saturation, intercept training, and electronic warfare support. The MiG-29 is also a horrific gas guzzler with a relatively minuscule combat radius. Supportability can also be an issue and a single airframe doesn't equate to much in terms of a robust and marketable adversary capability.
In fact, other MiG-29s that are in flyable condition have languished on the U.S. market, and the UB model can't even accommodate a fire control radar in its standard configuration, which is an increasingly in-demand feature for high-end adversary aircraft to bring to the adversary mission. The MiG-29UB does carry an infrared search and track (IRST) ball, but it was removed during the demilitarization process and Soviet IRST's of the era, like the one Paul Allen's MiG-29 would have had, aren't even that useful.
Still, this is the finest example of its kind out there, one that has had white-glove treatment thanks to a billionaire's bank account. Maybe for American fighter pilot familiarization or for test pilot school support, a business case could be made for the jet. Maybe even a microsatellite space-launch company could use the jet as a first stage booster.
And it's not unheard of for pristine examples of Russian fourth generation fighters that have already been converted for U.S. operations to disappear into the U.S. government's dark foreign materiel exploitation (FME) ecosystem. We know this happened to a pair of restored two-seat Ukrainian Su-27s that hit the market for a short time in the late 2000s. Those jets supposedly ended up at Groom Lake, better known as Area 51. That base hosts the "Red Hats" squadron, a unit that clandestinely flies foreign aircraft for intelligence gathering, tactics and systems development, and elite aggressor duties. This MiG-29UB, in particular, may offer a turn-key opportunity that is too good for the USAF to pass up.
On the other hand, the U.S. government had its exchange pilots fly MiG-29s following the end of the Cold War and has had MiG-29s of the same vintage in its own stable for decades. In fact, it had a bunch of them—ex-Moldovan examples that were transferred to the U.S. in the 1990s. As such, it's not like Paul Allen's MiG holds any special intelligence value of any kind.
Then there is always someone with big bucks and a love of flight, just like Paul Allen, who could see value in adding such a high-performance beast of a flying machine to their collection.
Whoever does step up with millions of bucks to own their own Fulcrum, they can be certain that they are getting pretty much the best one that has ever graced private hands. Buy with confidence as ole' Cal would say!
Now about that sweet little F-5B...
Author's note: Hat tip to Bibb Gault and Reid Joy for the heads up!
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com