Though most of us will never have the financial means of doing so, there is a fair amount of interest from the public in owning a fighter jet. I found this out after writing a blog post on the current use of the F-4 Phantom. The software on this site lets me see what search words lead a reader to my article and most keywords involved, “buying an F-4 Phantom” and “F-4 Phantom for sale.” Though it’s not necessarily an easy process, if you had the money, you could purchase almost any currently used or vintage fighter jet in existence, minus the 5th generation fighters such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor. All it takes is persistence and a lot of money to clear the way.
The easiest way to buy a fighter jet is to get one from one of the former Soviet Bloc countries. There are already a lot in the United States that are as easy to buy as a car. At the time of this article, a MIG-21 in flying condition could be had for as little as $69,500 and a MIG-29 in flying condition went for just shy of $5 million with various models falling everywhere in between. If the jet you’re looking for isn’t currently available, there are companies that specialize in exporting whatever you’re looking for to the United States and take care of all the licensing requirements. The main requirement for importing a Russian made fighter is that the aircraft’s radar and weapon systems are removed before the jet enters the country. Once demilitarized, the fighter jet is essentially just an aircraft that can do some pretty awesome acrobatics.
Below is a video of one of a pair of Ukrainian SU-27 Flanker aircraft that were imported into the United States.
The hard way of buying a fighter jet is if you are looking for something American made, like an F-16 Falcon or an F-4 Phantom. It used to be that the U.S. Air Force would sell aircraft directly to the public once they weren’t needed any more. But in our current world of terrorism and arms embargoes, that door has been closed and will probably never be opened again. Now if you want an American made aircraft, the only way to get one is to buy one from a country that operated American made aircraft and then to import it back into the country in compliance with the Arms Export Control Act… This requires a fair amount of licensing through the Department of Homeland Security and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, but if you have the money to buy one of these planes, then you should have the money to hire a team of lawyers to handle the licensing.
The only hiccup is that dependent upon how the fighter jet was provided to the country you’re buying it from could determine whether you can bring it back into the United States. If say, the F-16 Falcon, was purchased out right, then you should be able to import it. But if the Fighter jet was provided under military assistance from the United States (which is the bulk of U.S. made hardware out there), then it may require an act of congress to allow the fighter jet back into the country as the U.S. Air Force retains legal ownership of those planes even when the benefiting nation retires and disposes of them. If you bought a fighter jet provided under military assistance, then you would likely see your aircraft seized as soon as it arrived in the United States.
So yes, if you hit the lotto, then you could buy your own fighter jet. But just know that the upfront cost is just where it begins. A vintage MIG-21 can be had for $70,000 which most middle-class Americans could buy. But you’d be flying an aircraft that could burn through $5,000 worth of fuel in one flight. And while the MIG-21 maybe supersonic, you’d be limited to flying your fighter jet at those speeds over international waters or risk the wrath of the FAA and the seizure of your fighter jet. The main thing is that you follow all the licensing requirements and hire someone who knows the process. I leave you with a link to an article written about a guy who did everything wrong and had his A-4 Skyraider seized upon arrival in the United States.