Top 10 Faux Fighters
Whether you’re a G-junkie or a wannabe Top Gun, there’s a bird out there for you
7. North American T-6 Texan, $140K–$175K.
The Texan was, and is, the training pipeline to propeller-driven fighters, and there’s nothing you’ll see in a Corsair or a Mustang that you won’t also see in a T-6. The only differences are the numbers on the airspeed indicator. In truth, the Texan is much harder to fly than any of the supposedly higher-performance fighters. Get good at flying a Texan, and you’ll be as good a pilot as you’re ever going to be. Besides, it’s almost magical to be sitting up there with the canopy back, the big round motor rumbling away ahead of you and your hand resting on a control stick that’s an exact duplicate of the one in a Mustang. In addition, military cockpits look and smell like military cockpits, and that’s one quality in which wannabe fighters like Pitts or Acro Bonanzas just can’t cut it.
8. North American T-28 Trojan, $200K–$300K. The T-28, whether the 800 hp “A” model, 1,250 hp “B” or the 1,425 hp “C” model with its tailhook, are all the military real deal. They’re big, loud, obscenely roomy and, with the bigger engines, can run with a Mustang, as long as the Mustang driver doesn’t decide to power up and leave you behind. They’re also obscenely easy to land, and for some folks, that’s a good thing.
9. L-39 Albatros, $175K–$300K.
It isn’t a Tomcat, but from our point of view, the Czech-built L-39 is close enough. This little two-place jet trainer/light attack bomber has gained unbelievable popularity over here (an estimated 300 are stateside) because it offers true jet performance (it’ll top out at 435 mph at 19,000 feet), but without the attendant headaches many military jets carry. Designed to be a robust, easily maintained trainer, the L-39 is almost a gas and oil airplane and doesn’t require the skills of a Maverick to fly, although, as you land, onlookers don’t know that. Learn to smile like Tom Cruise, and you’re in. Lots of L-39 dealers in the United States can hook you up with an airplane.
10. Sukhoi Su-26.
The Su-26 is a snarling Bolshoi dancer with bulging muscles and unshaven legs. Whereas an Extra is sleek and a little feminine, the Su-26 is nothing but sweat-soaked testosterone. With its 360 hp, M-14P, lightning-like roll rate and ability to convert speed into vein-busting G’s, the Su-26 has been cleaning clocks at aerobatic events worldwide since it first rolled off the production line more than 20 years ago. Its supine seating, borderline scary performance and vaguely unorthodox control feel has made it the airplane to beat for a generation. This is the kind of performance fighter designers only wish they could muster.
So, if you’re bored with the $100 hamburger thing and want to stretch your horizons as a pilot, get out your checkbook and go shopping. We guarantee there’s a faux fighter out there that has your name on it, but don’t forget your silk scarf.