EVERETT -- To deter sea pirates and hijackers, the sensitive shipment had been split in two parts. One shipment, containing the wings and engines took a route across the Atlantic, another carried the fuselage across the Pacific.
When the fuselage shipment arrived in Hong Kong Harbor on April 4, 2006 it was offloaded to change ships on its trip to the Pacific Northwest, though the shipper had made a devastating bureaucratic oversight. A failure to obtain a local import license caused the shipment to be seized as illegal military contraband.
These crates carried the iconic airfoil shaped fuselage of one two-seat Ukrainian Air Force Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29UB "Fulcrum" with 510h on its airframe. The 'UB' is the trainer model of the Mach 2.2 capable Russian fighter jet.
John Sessions, the new owner of the MiG, and founder of the Historic Flight Foundation, a soft spoken real estate developer with a deep passion for aviation, travelled immediately to Hong Hong to save the MiG from bureaucratic purgatory.
Two years later, the Fulcrum's fuselage was freed after a Chinese judge ruled it had been properly demilitarized prior to its arrival in Hong Kong and was allowed to continue on its way. Following its arrival to the US in 2008, work began at the Morgan Aircraft Restoration Hangar at Arlington Municipal Airport. The aircraft was complete torn apart and every part was inspected for damage. Some parts would have to be fabricated from scratch, others made by duplicating mirror copies of parts on the other side of the aircraft.
The restoration was complete in December 2010 and the aircraft was set to be powered with twin zero-time Klimov RD-33 engines, which require a complete overhaul roughly ever 350h of operation.
Sessions began a 5h flight test program two weeks ago on January 23 when it transferred from Arlington Airport to Paine Field in Everett. The jet, now N-registered as N29UB, conducted its second and third test flights on Tuesday pushing the aircraft in high positive and negative G maneuvers from +5.5 to -1.5, though the aircraft is capable of more than 10g.
On the test flights, Sessions says he had to provide advance warning to nearby Whidbey Naval Air Station as their alert units are scrambled in the event of a detected heat signature from the MiG-29. Tuesday's tests demonstrated the stall capabilities of the fighter with gear retraction and 70-degree angle of attack maneuvers.
I had a chance to get up close to N29UB between its flights on yesterday's and chat with Sessions, who was preparing for an afternoon that was set to included acrobatics and high-altitude flight.
Once the test program is complete, the MiG will be sold to a private buyer with proceeds benefitting the Historic Flight Foundation. Sessions says he intends to repeat his restoration efforts on a second and third MiG-29 in the coming years to further support the foundation.
Additional photos are below the fold