Last month, I visited with a gentleman who had a model of an F-104 Starfighter on his desk. Nearby was a portrait of him next to the “manned missile”. He explained that while he didn’t have a pilot’s license, he actually went through two days of training and later flew in the aircraft. I didn’t know any were still airworthy, much less the thought of getting a hop in one. This was a piece of history, one of Kelly Johnson’s (Skunkworks!) more famous efforts. It’s fast , has a terrific rate of climb but wasn’t much of a dog fighter. The F-104 was intended to deliver nuclear ordnance and bug out at mach 2 during the cold war era. It also saw limited service in Vietnam. So how do you get to strap into the rear seat in one of these? Through Incredible Adventures whose motto is: “All you need is the dream, We take care of the rest”. More accurately all you need is a dream and $30,000.
We’ll introduce you to the stomach-crunching g-forces of a high-speed vertical climb and the incredible sensations of freefall and weightlessness sure to be part of future civilian space flights. We’ll top that off with a rapid descent and shuttle-style landing on one of the world’s longest runways.
That means a take off and landing from the Kennedy Space Center which would be pretty amazing. So it ain’t cheap, but for most pilots (and non pilots), it would be the flight of a lifetime.
Not to be outdone, the Collings Foundation received an FAA flight exemption that allows them to offer the “Vietnam Memorial Flight Program” to both pilots and non-pilots. (Featured at Airventure this year). The F-4 and A-4 Flight Programs take place at their Houston, Texas campus. Each participant will take part in academic sessions on board the aircraft, including safety procedures, ejection seat training and cockpit orientation, before putting on a fight-suit and manning the cat bird seat. While the Starfighter has one J-79 engine, the Phantom has two, making it one of the most powerful civilian operated fighters in the world. The F-4 Phantom program is $12,500, while the A-4 Skyhawk is $7,800.
While a fraction of the Starfighter flight, the price tag is still pretty hefty. This would fund a year (or more) of bugsmashing for many GA types but there IS something special about warbirds. You’re flying a piece of history. The stick has the gun and / or bomb release switches. As you ready for take off, your eyes scan an analog cockpit with the wear and tear of countless missions. The harness is tight, seat is armed and the view out the canopy is nothing short of spectacular. Sit back, relax and enjoy pulling some G’s. The pilot in command is responsible to bring back the bird with all the parts attached and no one’s shooting at you.
All it takes is airspeed…and lots of money.