Almost anything seems possible in adventure tourism these days—if you have a dream and a big enough bank account. In post-Cold War Russia, even the sky has no limit. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 who’s in relatively good health can mimic the world’s best-trained fighter pilots and fly a Russian military jet high enough to see the earth’s curve at 1,5 times the speed of sound. Just be prepared to pay for this fantasy flight: A 5-day package costs around $20,000, not including international airfare. Aviation aficionados who have tried it say it’s worth every penny.
Incredible Adventures began offering these Top Gun-inspired flights in 1993 after the company’s founder, Kent Ertugrul, then a young American entrepreneur who traveled to Moscow in search of computer programmers for a software venture, took one ride on a MiG-29 and fell in love with the rush. He signed a deal to market similar flights worldwide, returned home to Florida, and ran an advertisement for them in the Wall Street Journal. An investment banker from New York was the first client to sign up, and since then more than 2,000 other daredevils have followed her lead. The company has offices in Sarasota, FL, and Moscow.
To climb aboard your own fighter jet, first you have to take a commercial jet to Russia’s capital. After spending a couple of days exploring Moscow’s historic monuments and lively city streets, you head to Nizhny Novgorod, home of the Sokol Aircraft Building Plant—which is where you lift off for the flight of your life. This place has been manufacturing top-of-the-line Russian fighter jets for more than 70 years and has an air museum that’s worth a quick tour. Weather conditions permitting, you go through a final security clearance, safety briefing, and medical check. Then it’s time to put on your helmet and flight suit, discuss the flight plan with your Russian copilot, and hop into the cockpit. Depending on which aircraft you’re flying, you can reach heights of 21,336m (70,000 ft.), race at speeds of 3,862kmph (2,400 mph), roll over in airborne somersaults, and attempt other fancy tricks like a real military jet fighter. As your co-pilot gives directions and keeps an eye on things, you can take control of the aircraft and try some maneuvers yourself.
You have two jets to choose from: the legendary MiG-29 or the high-flying MiG-31. The MiG-29, known for its top gun capabilities, was developed in Russia during the 1970s to counter the U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-18 Hornet. Today, the RussianAir Force and many other nations around the world continue to use this elite model. The MiG-31 is Russia’s most advanced fighter, designed to fly high and fast but also perform well at lower levels. Whichever model you select, there’s only one way to go—and that’s up, at supersonic speeds. Mission accomplished.