Yesterday I joined former Air Force test pilot Doug Russell in the cockpit of the Mig-29UB Fulcrum (“UB” is the designation for two-place) HFF acquired about six years ago. Since then, Tim Morgan and I have had the pleasure of partnership in its restoration. Now some worry that HFF might change focus from Spitfires to Migs, but that will not happen on my watch. We undertook this project to demonstrate a small foundation could restore to top standards, one of the most advanced and elegant aircraft of the modern era. That we did is tribute to the collection of aviation devotees at Arlington Field (in particular, the employees of Morgan Aircraft Restorations), enlightened civil servants from the FAA (who will remain nameless to avoid career implications), talented and hard-working foreign nationals who used vacations from jobs maintaining Mig-29s to work on ours, and a Chinese judge who knew what to do.
In April, 2006, I signed papers authorizing our shipping company to take control of our Mig in Ukraine for transit to the Port of Tacoma. That company decided it did not want to transport a complete Mig-29 on one ship on one ocean, perhaps to avoid hijacking by terrorists. Whatever the motivation, the engines and wings crossed the Atlantic while the fuselage headed east for the Pacific. Racked on deck in a steel frame, it seemed the bow sprint of the first order. When off-loaded in Hong Kong for transfer to another vessel, a customs official seized our fuselage as an undocumented implement of war. Ranking officials of Hong Kong advised that I would never see it again unless I swam with the fish near a breakwater then under construction. Nonetheless, court dates came and we were prepared. A judge assigned at random ruled the aircraft had been properly demilitarized before it left Ukraine. Key to the outcome was de-registration of the aircraft in Ukraine and re-registration in the United States to Historic Flight Foundation, a non-profit institution, before shipment. So the customs official had acted reasonably because the shipper’s paperwork was flawed, but the fuselage should be released because it was not an implement of war. The process required twenty-three months and just a few dollars. Collecting fine art must be simpler.
So our pristine Mig-29 awaits your inspection at our Restoration Hangar. We will conduct Phase I test flights during the balance of January and February to fulfill the conditions of the Certificate of Airworthiness.