Is It Legal for Civilians to Own Military Jets?

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Have you ever heard of anyone like a celebrity owning an old piece of military equipment, a car, a tank, or a jet? What’s that all about, and is it even legal for someone to be able to own an old military jet?

Military jets and even helicopters can be sold and purchased by private parties, but they are normally purchased through a vendor who has de-militarized them. Once they are demilitarized, they can be sold privately to someone who has the proper permits to own and fly one.

Owning your own demilitarized tank or refurbished military jeep is one thing, but owning and actually being permitted to fly a military jet is another. There is a long process to purchasing and becoming qualified to actually fly a military jet. The demilitarized jets bought and sold to civilians can cost a small fortune to buy and maintain.

How Does One Buy an Old Military Jet?

Technically, you can purchase an old military jet in the U.S., but it’s probably going to have to be something like an old Soviet SU27 Flanker or something from another government because the U.S. government won’t sell you one. Any military jet that you can buy needs to be demilitarized, meaning that the radar, guns, and any other military technology are removed from the aircraft. (Source)

Demilitarizing an old military machine can be a long process, but it takes even longer when the machine has fully automatic weapons. Semi-automatic weapons are easier to demilitarize and are much less of a headache to purchase than fully-automatic ones.

What are the Barriers to Fly an Old Military Jet?

Airworthiness Certificate

If you were to purchase an old demilitarized jet, you would need to buy an airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. According to their website, “An airworthiness certificate is an FAA document which grants authorization to operate an aircraft in flight.”

There are two kinds of certificates. An old military jet would fall under the Special Airworthiness Certificate category where there are special reasons for a private certificate.

The FAA requires applicants to certify that their aircraft operates safely and meets all the standards set by the FFA. They have a team that reviews the aircraft design to make sure it is safe and that it passes all of the ground tests for operation and maintenance. After a thorough investigation, they talk to any local aviation authorities to get the final approval of the jet or plane to have it imported.

The FFA can partner with other organizations to perform the required tests. They can work in conjunction to certify the aircraft is safe and permitted to fly. The FFA does this by designating some of the processes to outside organizations under a policy called Organization Designation Authorization (ODA). (Source)

Checkride

Once the aircraft is certified as properly functioning, the pilot must undergo a checkride with an experienced pilot. The test certifies that the pilot can fly the aircraft just like a driver’s test would do for a new driver. The new pilot being examined needs to fly the jet and pass a flight examination with a pilot from the FAA’s end.

Hours of Experience

To become a pilot, you’ll need 1,000 hours or more of flying experience or flight time. Half of those hours need to be in the same class of aircraft that you plan on flying. So, if you’ve never flown a jet before, you’ll need to find a jet to use for 500 hours or so.

A beginner’s lesson in an L-39, for example, would cost you $2,999 for just 20 minutes. Some of the reasons that these jets are so expensive are that you can get up to speeds of 450 mph or more, jet fuel is incredibly expensive, and the likelihood that you will make mistakes is incredibly high.

What Happens To Old Military Jets?

In the U.S., old jets are refurbished, given to allied nations, or destroyed. It’s incredibly illegal to have a modern working U.S. fighter jet. The U.S. used to sell their extra old jets like other nations still do, but they stopped doing that a while ago. Really, the only way to get an old U.S. military jet is by importing it from another country or by buying it from one of the few people who own them in the U.S.

The Soviet Union sold off many of its old fighter jets to private individuals to make some extra money after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Selling off old military equipment helped them earn quite a bit of money after the government and economic collapse of the 1990s.

The majority of private demilitarized jet owners have bought them from outside the country and imported them to the United States. In fact, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt own and fly vintage military planes, but Michael Dorn from Star Trek is the only one of them to own and fly 3 old military jets.

How Much Do Ex-Military Jets Cost?

The price of purchasing an old military jet is quite high. It ranges from $50,000-$400,000 depending on the jet. You will also have to consider the cost to ship the jet, which will need to be taken apart so that it can be legally shipped.

Don’t forget about maintenance and fuel prices, which can be exorbitant over time. It can cost around $10,000,000 to purchase, ship, and certify yourself to be able to fly a demilitarized jet, and that’s just a ballpark range. A fighter jet was sold for $8,500,000,000 in Florida in 2019, but it was fully functional. (Source)

Jet fuel costs about $430 per metric ton, but the price has increased a massive amount in the last few years. It was down to $200 per metric ton, but it went up to $816 at the beginning of 2022. A commercial example of what the cost would be is if someone took an international flight and flew from New York to London with 450 other passengers, their cost would be $450 per person. It’s more difficult to tell with ex-military jets because jet fuel prices fluctuate. (Source)

If you really want to buy an old military jet, it is legal to do so if it has been de-militarized. However, it is incredibly expensive, so those that own an old military jet are typically celebrities or billionaires.

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