A Top Gun Experience
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
WHEN TO GO: Spring, summer, or fall.
Almost anything seems possible in adven- ture tourism these days—if you have a dream and a big enough bank account. In post–Cold War Russia, even the sky has no limit. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 who’s in relatively good health can mimic the world’s best-trained fighter pilots and fly a Russian military jet high enough to see the earth’s curve at 11⁄2 times the speed of sound. Just be pre- pared to pay for this fantasy flight: A 5-day package costs around $20,000, not includ- ing international airfare. Aviation aficiona- dos who have tried it say it’s worth every penny.
Incredible Adventures began offering these Top Gun–inspired flights in 1993 after the company’s founder, Kent Ertugrul, then a young American entrepreneur who trav- eled to Moscow in search of computer programmers for a software venture, took one ride on a MiG-29 and fell in love with the rush. He signed a deal to market similar flights worldwide, returned home to Flor- ida, and ran an advertisement for them in the Wall Street Journal.
An investment banker from New York was the first client to sign up, and since then more than 2,000 other daredevils have followed her lead. The company has offices in Sarasota, FL, and Moscow.
To climb aboard your own fighter jet, first you have to take a commercial jet to Russia’s capital.
After spending a couple of days exploring Moscow’s historic monu- ments and lively city streets, you head to Nizhny Novgorod, home of the Sokol Air- craft Building Plant—which is where you lift off for the flight of your life. This place has been manufacturing top-of-the-line Russian fighter jets for more than 70 years and has an air museum that’s worth a quick tour. Weather conditions permitting, you go through a final security clearance, safety briefing, and medical check.
Then it’s time to put on your helmet and flight suit, dis- cuss the flight plan with your Russian co- pilot, and hop into the cockpit. Depending on which aircraft you’re flying, you can reach heights of 21,336m (70,000 ft.), race at speeds of 3,862kmph (2,400 mph), roll over in airborne somersaults, and attempt other fancy tricks like a real military jet fighter. As your co-pilot gives directions and keeps an eye on things, you can take control of the aircraft and try some maneu- vers yourself.
You have two jets to choose from: the legendary MiG-29 or the high-flying MiG-31. The MiG-29, known for its top gun capabili- ties, was developed in Russia during the 1970s to counter the U.S. F-16 Fighting Fal- con and the F-18 Hornet.
Today, the Russian 2 Virgin Galactic The World’s First Spaceline Outer Space Air Force and many other nations around the world continue to use this elite model. The MiG-31 is Russia’s most advanced fighter, designed to fly high and fast but also perform well at lower levels. Whichever model you select, there’s only one way to go—and that’s up, at supersonic speeds. Mission accomplished. —JS