Why won't the US sell its surplus aircraft to civilians?

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parrothead

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Unread post14 May 2004, 04:15

Can anyone tell me why the US government won't sell its surplus aircraft to civilians? I understand about certain planes like the SR-71 and U2 - too many things still classified, etc. What I don't understand is why they wouldn't sell something like an F-101, -104, Phantom, or Thud? I don't see any issues with classified information. :?

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of WWII warbirds were sold to civilians as surplus. If those warbirds were sold to civilians, when did the practice stop and what caused the change?

It seems like such a waste to let all these great and memorable aircraft fall into roles such as gate guards, non-flying museum pieces, and (gasp!) scrap metal! :shock: My personal opinion is that an AIRcraft's place is in the AIR! I don't have the $ (yet :) ), but I think it would be great to have my own jet!

Thanx in advance for any help you can give me!
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LinkF16SimDude

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Unread post16 May 2004, 07:35

While I do admit I have secretly dreamed of saving up my lunch money so that one day I could march into AMARC to order up my own F-16, I have a couple of speculations why the gub-ment frowns on selling high-performance ex-military jets to the general public:

1) Airspace deconfliction. It'd be kinda dicey if the airspace used most often by Cessnas and Pipers were suddenly choked with Vipers, Phantoms, Voodoos, and the like. To maintain seperation with the slower traffic you'd need to slow down so as not to swap paint with 'em. And I could be wrong but even in uncontrolled airspace the speed limit is somethin' like 250 KIAS. Why spend all that cha-ching on a Viper and be restricted to 250? :evil: Not to mention the fact it'd be pretty noisy. And where could one go to really turn the bird loose? Offshore past the 12-mile limit? As for the sale of warbirds after WWII? Remember, those were the days before mass civilian commercial air transport when airspace was fairly unregulated and sparsely populated.

2) Upkeep. Except for the gun ports and gun sights and stuff like that, the WWII warbirds you cite weren't that different mechanically than the civilian stuff flying at the time so maintenance was relatively straight forward and could be done by a proficient mechanic who could read a manual. For later jets, however, (like the Century Series onward) the inspection and maintenance issues would be logistically improbable except for the financially well-off and well-connected who could afford them. Plus you'd need certified aircraft mechanics to do the work. I'm sure there are contractors who could do this but it loops back to the financial question again. Have you seen what a private aircraft mechanic demands? Yowch! And in the F-16 anyway, there's this nasty stuff the EPU runs on called Hydrazine that tears up your lungs if you breathe too much of it. Take a short whiff of ammonia and you'll know what I mean. It needs special handling...again by certified folks.

The one example of private supersonic military jet ownership I know of is Clay Lacy. Remember the movie "Dragnet" with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks? OK...a dumb movie but at the end Aykroyd's "Friday" nabs a fleeing LearJet in a T-38 painted up in LAPD colors...complete with a red strobe and the "Protect and Serve" motto. Lacy, who owns Clay Lacy Aviation and specializes in LearJet ops, bought the T-38 as scrap bits and pieces thru agents and aliases and manged to restore it to flying condition. When the government raised a ruckus, he told 'em they sold the parts as scrap at auction. So they were his to do with as he pleased. And it pleased him to build a flyable T-38...so there! :D The FAA agreed and gave it a special tail number. NT38CL I think it is. If anyone knows for sure feel free to correct me.
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parrothead

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Unread post16 May 2004, 08:11

Thanks for the thoughts, Link, they're all good points. If I remember correctly, the 250 knot limit is only below 10,000 feet, so above that, you can go as fast as you want as long as you stay subsonic. The only places I know of to go faster than that are offshore past the 12 mile limit and above 60,000 feet, but I'm not sure on the altitude bit. Being restricted to 250 would be more of a drag than not owning the jet in the first place! It would be like owning a Ferrari and living somewhere with a 10 MPH speed limit!

As for the upkeep, yeah, it would be EXPENSIVE, but just look at all the privately owned former military jets flying in the US right now. We've got F-104s, F-5s, A-4s, and MIGs galore, just to name a few. If the government allows the ownership and operation of these planes by private individuals, why not make some money off all those wonderful gems sitting out in the bone yard? You do have a great point about the hydrazine for the Viper!

When it comes to supersonic jet ownership, just look at JR007 on our own boards. He flies a privately owned F-104 Starfighter which is capable of Mach 2+!

What I still don't understand is that if the US is a capitalist country and someone has enough money, why not sell them any aircraft they want as long as it doesn't have any weapons, they're qualified to fly it, and they can prove that the maintenance is properly performed and up to date? Kudos to to Clay Lacy! Great to see that the enterprising and cunning American spirit is still around!

Thanks again, Link!
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Cylon

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Unread post16 May 2004, 14:10

Actually....
There is no airspace distinction (besides MOA's, Restricted and warning areas) between military and civilian aircraft. We can (and have) fly the pattern with the cessnas. We need some more spacing when we do it... We also don't have to slow below 250 when below 10k. The other part of the rule (part 91 and 11-202) says "...unless restricted by aircraft specific technical order." We fly 350 on departure below 10k, 300 on rtb / cruise below 10k and 250 when in the radar pattern when within 25 nm of the field. Cruise Mach / Max range is typcally flown above 10k to and from the working airpsace.

T-38 Guy: Nice guy too (met him while sitting at my static at an airshow). He had quite a bit of parts confiscated from him by the USAF also...

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Unread post16 May 2004, 14:13

OH,
The plane I would be interested in buying from the USAF is the T-3 or T-37 (when they junk them all). T-3 was a fun plane to fly... Put some avionics and a bit of engine upgrade in a T-37 and it would be a great jet to have too.... (with relatively low up-keep).

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parrothead

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Unread post16 May 2004, 16:46

Thanks Cylon! I've talked with a few T-37 pilots at the Miramar air show and they all love their little jet. It would probably be a perfect first jet, but I want something that breathes fire with mach diamonds in the exhaust! 8)

Thanks for the clarification on the airspeed and airspace! :)
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LinkF16SimDude

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Unread post17 May 2004, 06:34

Man!...I'd LOVE to have a T-37 of my own! Small, maneuverable, easy to get into, no complex electronic gadgets besides the radios, pretty good range with gas bags. Did it come stock with an autopilot? Wonder what would work as an engine upgrade? Something from the Williams people maybe? You could probably get one for a song from some the the South American air forces still using it. :wink:
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Unread post17 May 2004, 16:19

Well just think how they could be used in the WRONG hands. Drug runners would LOVE a surpluse F-111 streak in low, drop your cargo and speeed back, not many could catch it.
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Unread post17 May 2004, 16:35

I see what you're saying Swedge, but from what I understand, the US government doesn't care too much what anyone buys from foreign governments. If they're worried about that scenario, I think they'd restrict ownership of all the former foreign military jets. I could say the same thing about a Zipper that you said about the 111. Just think of the possible use of drop tanks.

If the true concern is who will own and operate the jet, why not a background check and or special permit? I know it would complicate things with more buearocratic red tape, but at least we'd see some planes back in the air that would otherwise be lost to the desert. I know I don't have the money right now, but something tells me there's someone out there who's dream is to fly a Thud. Unfortunately, I don't recall any export customers for this plane, so I doubt we'll ever see one fly again.
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Unread post17 May 2004, 18:53

I used to know some of the guys at Sierra Hotel in Texas, they were 'acquiring' FMS aircraft and refurbing them to flying condition. Back then they had an RAAF A-4B, F-100F and F-104 from Turkey, several Mig-15s and probably some other stuff. Yes they could legally import them and restore them but that's only half the battle. Before they could fly them, they had to register them with the FAA. That is where it gets sticky. FAA isn't just going to rubber-stamp your registration, especially in cases like these. IIRC one sticking point was that FAA demanded the ejection seats be rendered inoperative - they didn't want pilots punching out and unmanned/disabled aircraft crashing into houses etc. The SH guys said "yeah, sure, the seat is inoperable....." (with fingers crossed behind their backs) Would you fly in a military jet w/o a live seat? No one trusts an old fighter jet that much....

They were flying them out of Addison Airport until the AB takeoffs started setting off every car alarm in north Dallas. They got so many complaints they moved up north around Dennison I think. That's when I lost touch with them.
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Unread post17 May 2004, 18:59

If you want to see what can be done with money check out Paul Allen's airplane collection/hobby at - http://www.flyingheritage.com/ He has acquired and plans to restore/fly an F-105, F-8, MiG-21 and GR3 Harrier.

Of course this collection is in addition to his own private airline and extensive exotic car collection.....
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kmceject

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Unread post17 May 2004, 20:28

IIRC one sticking point was that FAA demanded the ejection seats be rendered inoperative


Actually, from what I've heard it is the opposite. Since the seat is part of the original aircraft they require them to be live, although a guy I know with about 6 jet warbirds tells me that every time he had to take a FAA inspector up they insisted that their seat be pinned safe before the flight. He told the guy once that if there was a problem with the jet he'd punch out and the inspector said "There won't be a problem with the jet" as if it was an order!

The guys I have dealt with have all told me that the FAA policy on this seems to vary from inspector to inspector. The regs don't seem to specific on this so they go back to the 'all original equipment must be in functional form' argument on it.

By the way, it wasn't Clay Lacy. It was Chuck Thorton I believe. N638TC as I recall. You can check in Dragnet, the tail number is quite clear. There were several articles on Thorton and his T-38. As I recall for $500 an hour you could get a flight with him when he first made the scene. I doubt it is that 'cheap' anymore. He had collected some 15 hulks, and tons of parts until he got lucky when a T-38 was sold at DRMO auction. That one had landed gear up at a cross-service airfield (Navy plane at AF base or vice versa). Since it was sold by the opposite service, the military failed to cut the fuselage and render it useless.

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habu2

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Unread post17 May 2004, 21:22

kmceject wrote:
IIRC one sticking point was that FAA demanded the ejection seats be rendered inoperative


Actually, from what I've heard it is the opposite. Since the seat is part of the original aircraft they require them to be live, although a guy I know with about 6 jet warbirds tells me that every time he had to take a FAA inspector up they insisted that their seat be pinned safe before the flight.


My info is admittedly third-hand but that is what I was told by David Strait of Sierra Hotel.

In any event I think the FAA hurdles would be as much, if not more, of a factor as the legalities involved in acquiring an airframe.
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Unread post18 May 2004, 02:26

I suppose you can do anything if you want it bad enough. :) For a look at a few of the jets in private hands, check out http://www.warbirdalley.com/acft.htm. It has a pretty good list, just scroll to the bottom for the jets. I know Gums will be happy to hear that there are at least two A-37s in private hands! A couple of other examples I can name are Bill Reesman with his Mig-17F (www.migbird.com) and the Starfighters airshow team (www.starfighters.net). 8) I know JR007 is familiar with that last one! :wink: I think I'll just have to work hard, save my money while learning to fly (if that isn't a complete oxymoron!), and become friendly with the FAA and my political representitives. Thanks everyone for all your time, thought, and effort. :D Please let me know if anyone thinks of anything else!
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Unread post18 May 2004, 05:29

OK Dudes, some quick info.

The Federal "A" a$$... lets each FSDO certify each aircraft, so some allow seats, some don't it's ludicrous. Just the seat charges alone are $100k though, try $1,000 per main tire and only getting 16 landings on each.

The Fed has laws that do not allow “weapons of war” to be sold to civilians, two of our F-104s are CF-104s, Canadian. Our B model came through Jordan. There are a few US jets, but most were owned by a foreign government somewhere along the way. The American T-33A I used to fly came back through Yugoslavia. When Steve Ritchie got his F-4, it took an act of Congress for him to obtain the a/c. Then the FAA required Steve to get his check ride from Sharkbait, even though Sharkbait was only current in the F-104 and Hawker Hunter. No kidding…

As far as the FAR about 250 kts, doesn’t apply if your aircraft will not operate safely at that speed. And 260 kts is gear speed for the Zipper, so we do 350kts under 10k. The only places you can go Mach or above is +12 miles off the coast, or if you are on a Mil contract in a Mach corridor. Sharkbait was doing that a few years ago when the Viper was chasing the Zipper. Tom left the Viper in its tracks, the call came to push it up, the Viper Driver replied “that’s all I got”, Tom was laughing in his mask at that point, 64 years old and leaving an active service fighter in the dust. :-) Attached is a pic of Sharkbait during a taxi in after a hop in the Zipper.

The T-38 does belong to Chuck Thornton http://www.thorntonaircraft.com/main.cfm


Hope that covered a few of the questions.
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Sharkbait-Selfridge-Taxi-6-2003.jpg
Burning debris never reversed on anyone…

JR
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