Top Gun: Maverick (2022) has reignited the passion for fighter jets among scores of people around the world. Ask a military pilot and they’d say that flying a fighter jet is an experience of a lifetime. Such is the thrill involved that any other adventure might pale before it. But the uniformed heroes are not the only ones who can fly in a fighter aircraft. There are some places in the world where anyone can book fighter jet rides.
The aircraft that carry civilians for a high-speed sortie are real fighter jets and among the world’s most well-known. Of course, the guests won’t get to fly the aircraft themselves. Everything from take-off to landing is done by experienced pilots.
Things to know before taking any of the fighter jet rides around the world
Although the guests take the back seat in these aircraft, this doesn’t diminish the thrill. On the contrary, some of the world’s foremost fighter aircraft, such as the Sukhoi Su-30, are two-seat beasts. The pilot sits in the front seat while the Weapon Systems Officer (WSO), who can be the one in charge of the mission, takes the back seat. In aviation, this formation is known as tandem seating.
The rules and requirements for anyone in a cockpit are, however, the same. This means that the back-seat passenger will have to go through a pre-flight briefing to understand the flying programme, duration and pilot instructions regarding safety in case something goes wrong during the fighter jet flight.
One also must remember that fighter jets are designed for war, not luxury. So, the experience is completely different from flying first class in a long-haul aircraft, a private jet or any other kind of aircraft.
However, the most important thing to note is that fighter jets are so incredibly agile and fast that pilots experience the highest of what is known in aviation as G-force or Gs. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “Acceleration is described in units of the force called ‘Gs’.” The Gs increase depending on the acceleration and the turns an aircraft, or even a Formula 1 car, takes. The body then feels enormous pressure depending on the level of Gs. Even many pass out in just a few Gs when the force is sustained. Flight suits are worn by pilots and passengers to handle the Gs, but absolute physical fitness is a must.
If the body is fit and the mind made up, a ride in a jet fighter aircraft is truly unforgettable.
Here are some of the best fighter jet rides around the world to try
Hunter Valley, Australia
Hunter Valley is the oldest wine-growing region in Australia. Located near Sydney, it is a haven for lovers of good food, high-end luxury and a slow life. However, seekers of a thrilling fighter jet experience easily find one of the finest places to rule the sky over Hunter Valley.
Jetride, which is Australia’s longest-running L-39 Albatros jet fighter operator, has a special ride for those who can take the Gs.
The L-39 is one of the world’s most famous fighters. The two-seat, single-engine aircraft was designed and manufactured by Aero Vodochody for the Czechoslovakian Air Force in the 1960s. It was so incredibly popular as a ground attack aircraft and trainer that more than 30 countries inducted it into their militaries.
Jetride offers the thrill of flying in an L-39 jet they own for an incredible flight over the Hunter Valley. The company has an international jet fighter race pilot and a military combat pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to fly the L-39. Before the flight, the pilot gives all the necessary information, including how to handle the G-force on the body.
The experience starts at AUD 1,490 (SGD 1,476 approximately) for what Jetride calls ‘Top Gun 15 Mission’ for a 15-minute flight. At the highest level is the ‘Top Gun 35 Mission’, which costs AUD 3,290 (SGD 3,260 approximately) and lasts a thrilling 35 minutes. As the mission’s level rises, so does the breathtaking aerobatics — loops, rolls and numerous high-G manoeuvres.
The Alps, Switzerland
Switzerland is a crown jewel of European tourism, endowed with breathtaking natural wonderlands and magnificent historic places. From skiing slopes to historic hotels and from horological titans to hiking trails, the country offers some of the world’s most unforgettable experiences to its visitors. And flying in a fighter jet is perhaps the best way to see from a bird’s-eye view.
MiGFlug, a company founded by two aviation enthusiasts in Zurich, Switzerland, offers a fighter jet ride in a Hawker Hunter, an iconic British subsonic fighter aircraft. Since the Swiss Air Force (SAF) itself had the aircraft in its squadrons for 37 years, the company has an array of SAF pilots experienced in flying the Hawker Hunter.
Thrill-seekers can soar over the Swiss Alps in the Hawker Hunter. Due to its design, it is perhaps the best fighter aircraft to smoothly navigate the constricted airspace of the mountainous country, which is marked by narrow valleys and towering peaks.
The pilots do all sorts of manoeuvres, ranging from the simple loops to the more complex ones such as controlled spins. They can also undertake high-speed low pass over the airport runway, something that is done by fighter aircraft during tactical training and bombing runs.
Viewing the snow-covered Alps and the spectacular landscape of Switzerland while flying inverted is an experience only a fighter aircraft can guarantee. And all this costs just EUR 7,500 (SGD 11,030 approximately) for a 25-minute flight.
Mojave Desert, Los Angeles, US
One of the world’s most famous cities, Los Angeles is home to Hollywood. There is so much to do here on the ground that one can spend an entire lifetime and still leave something undiscovered. Additionally, the city looks absolutely vibrant from up in the skies.
Through FlyFighterJet.com, a part of MiGFlug, flying enthusiasts can take a ride in a two-seat L-39 Albatros. The L-39 that is available for flying is a type that has been featured in many blockbuster movies, including the James Bond franchise.
The trip begins with a discussion with the pilot regarding the flight programme. The flight route might include the sprawling Mojave desert, over which a roaring spin is a must. Flying at high speed over the desert is guaranteed to give the ‘Top Gun’ feeling one gets while watching Tom Cruise in action in the two films of the same name.
The desert landscape is perfect for stunts such as split-S, dive and steep climbs — each of which is incredibly exciting. When in the air, there is also a chance that the pilot hands over the control of the L-39 to the passenger.
There are ample opportunities to photograph or video record the flight for those precious Instagram memories.
As per FlyFighterJet.com, a 45-minute flight will cost USD 5,100 (SGD 7,011 approximately) while a 60-minute flight costs USD 5,600 (SGD 7,698 approximately).
Kennedy Space Center
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was built in the 1950s to take on the Soviet Union’s famed MiG-15 fighters. It was so capable in its various roles as an interceptor, ground-attack and reconnaissance aircraft that it quickly entered the air forces of multiple countries aligned with the US.
To fly in a Starfighter is as much a lesson in aviation history as it is a thrill of epic proportions. The aircraft’s design is so brilliant that it set several speed and altitude records in its lifetime. The Starfighter was the first production aircraft to reach Mach 2.
Aviation lovers can fly in a Starfighter at the Kennedy Space Center, one of the 10 field centres of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Curated by MiGFlug, this one-of-a-kind experience is completely different from all others because it requires more preparation before the flight and can take three days.
Fliers have to undergo two days of learning the fundamentals of the aircraft at the training facilities of the Kennedy Space Center. Training includes both on-ground lessons and back-seat sorties above the space centre.
The actual flight in an F-104 Starfighter lasts between 35-50 minutes and is done on the second day in the daytime, if the weather permits, or on the third day. Once the flight is over, guests receive a certificate of flight achievement. A flight video is provided and photos of the aircraft can be taken after the trip.
But the flip side is that the unique experience is open to only those who are themselves licensed pilots. There are also height and weight limitations for those flying in the Starfighter. Kennedy Space Center is one of the most heavily guarded places in the world and anyone willing to enter will need the access badge issued by the centre. Fliers also must sign a release-of-liability agreement.
The three-day programme costs USD 29,900 (SGD 41,104 approximately).
Fighter pilots, anywhere in the world, live for dogfights — a close aerial battle between fighter aircraft. There is no chance any fighter pilot would let go of an opportunity to take down an enemy fighter in a dogfight. That’s considered the ultimate achievement in air missions.
Thanks to MiGFlug, fighter aircraft lovers can participate in a mock dogfight across the skies of Riga. Two L-39 Albatros aircraft can be rented for the special action for EUR 18,000 (SGD 26,470 approximately). This opportunity can, therefore, be a great gift for a friend or dear one who wants to enjoy the thrill of fighter jet rides.
Four sorties are conducted, starting with a familiarisation flight with both aircraft. Briefings about dogfighting and ground bombing are shared during the second sortie. The third sortie involves the ‘battle’, where both aircraft try to take down the other. Of course, it is all carefully conducted and not actual air combat. The final sortie involves teaming up with the other aircraft to take out shelters and bunkers in-ground bombing missions before heading back to base.
One of the most thrilling fighter jet rides anywhere in the world, the entire Riga flight time lasts for around 90 minutes. There are several aerobatic manoeuvres involved during the flight, including tail-chase, vertical diving and climbing, and looping. But being an air combat simulation, fliers will have to take on the intense pressure of up to 6Gs.
(Main image: MiGFlug; Featured image: Jetride)