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Another Privately Owned MiG-29 Flies

 

Takeoff
Historic Flight Foundation’s MiG-29UB takes off for the first time in the U.S.

Parachute
The MiG-29 aircraft makes a parachute landing after the first flight.

Restoration
The markings were kept as close to original as possible, from the camo pattern to the black panther on the nose.

Post landing
John Sessions, right, shakes hands with test pilot Doug Russell after the successful first flight.

January 27, 2011 —Another front-line Eastern Bloc fighter - a 1989 MiG-29 Fulcrum - flew for the first time in the United States on January 23 at Snohomish County Airport in Everett, Washington. It’s the second privately held MiG-29 flying in the U.S., closely following Don Kirlin’s aircraft that flew last month in Quincy, Illinois.

This latest Soviet fighter, N29UB, belongs to the Historic Flight Foundation, based at Paine Field in Mukilteo, which specializes in vintage airplanes built from 1927-57. Among its collection are a Waco UPF-7, P-51B Mustang, Spitfire Mk. IXE, T-33, Grumman Bearcat, and B-25D Mitchell. However, when HFF founder John Sessions learned about the MiG becoming available in 2005, he decided to acquire it and verify that a complex high-performance aircraft could be restored by following the same rules and guidelines as a vintage airplane.

The result is one of the most pristine examples of the MiG-29 anywhere in the world.

It wasn’t easy to get the Mach 2.2/60,000 feet aircraft to the States. The company hired to transport it to the U.S. split it into two shipments to deter hijackers - one, containing the wing and engine, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and the other, with the fuselage, heading across the Pacific. Things got complicated, however, when the fuselage was being off-loaded to another ship in Hong Kong; the shipper had neglected to obtain a local import license and it was seized as military contraband on April 4, 2006.

Over the next two years Sessions traveled to Hong Kong a number of times in an effort to extricate the MiG from the bureaucratic red tape. A judge finally ruled in 2008 that the aircraft had been properly demilitarized before arriving in Hong Kong and should be returned to the Historic Flight Foundation. In 2008, the fuselage finally joined the rest of the aircraft at Arlington Municipal Airport in the hangar of Morgan Aircraft Restorations, the company that performed the restoration.

Morgan fully disassembled the aircraft to inspect all the parts for damage. Some parts that didn’t make it to the U.S. had to be fabricated from scratch, or duplicated by making a mirror copy from the other side of the aircraft. Components showing unusual wear or any sort of corrosion or damage were replaced, including both Klimov RD-33 afterburning turbofan engines specially manufactured by the Klimov factory in Russia. Morgan also utilized experienced MiG-29 mechanics with decades of front line MiG-29 service, flown in from Slovakia.

While the aircraft was being restored, two crashes of Russian Air Force MiG-29s occurred, later found to be caused by the vertical tails separating from the fuselage due to corrosion. HFF redesigned all of the attachment components entirely out of aluminum to prevent that from occurring. Also, since the airplane had been parked outside in the Ukraine through many long winters plus sat on a Hong Kong dock for two years, some of the sheet metal needed replacement. The entire plane also had to be stripped and repainted, but the markings were kept as close to original as possible - from the pattern of the camouflage to the black panther on the nose.

The restoration was completed in December 2010 - except for the explosive charges for the ejection seats, which had been removed as part of its demilitarization in the Ukraine. Acquiring replacements and importing them into the U.S. was another challenge, but they were finally installed earlier this month and the aircraft was ready to fly again.

Sessions and Doug Russell, former F-15 pilot with MiG-29 time in Europe, flew the January 23 ferry flight of the newly christened N29UB from Arlington to Snohomish County. Sessions characterized the flight as “solid.”

“In a slow turn, when you start to ‘feel the hammers,’ they bring to mind the felt tips of a Steinway,” Sessions described. “No jackhammers. Add a little power and the hammers go away.”

The only movement in the seat was caused by cessation of the afterburner, he said. “Made me lurch forward. It was a happy experience.” The flight experienced no unexpected drips or streaks, “which is tribute to Morgan Aircraft Restorations,” Sessions added.

The MiG-29 is scheduled to undergo a 5-hour flight test program soon, flying to altitudes of 60,000 feet at speeds of Mach 0.97, along with high-g aerobatic maneuvers.

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