Say one wanted to buy a retired F-14, or F-5, or a BAE Hawk. Could I do it?

Obviously this would mean stripping out radars, weapons, rwr, and any other sensitive equipment, but after this, would it be possible?

Is there some kind of procedure for this?

EDIT: What is the typical way aircraft are released for sale? Is it common?


4 Answers 4


You could, if the aircraft is available for sale somewhere, and there are no other legal compliance problems. Paul Allen has a nice collection of military aircraft at his Flying Heritage Collection, and there are certainly quite a few other people with both flyable and unflyable military aircraft. There are also private companies which will let you try out their planes, such as Australian Jet Adventures

Here is a web site which tracks military planes in private ownership around the world:



Yes and no.

Yes it is possible to buy old military aircraft; they are frequently listed in the pages of aircraft sales periodicals like Controller, Trade-A-Plane, Barnstormers, etc. Popular piston engine military aircraft include the P-51 Mustang, AT-6 Harvard and T-28 Trojan. East Bloc jets like the L-39 and MiG-15 are also big sellers, due to their affordability to acquire and maintain. A number of historical organizations like the Commemerative Air Force operated old WWII fighters and bombers for display and exhibition. And the unlimited category class at the Reno Air Races is dominated by rebuilt and souped-up WWII fighters like the P-51 and F8F Bearcat.

However it is illegal to buy MILITARIZED aircraft, that is those equipped with weapons, either internal or external, military mission systems eg fire control radars, FLIR/Designators, electronic warfare suites, advanced engines or any other type of equipment or system which have national security classifications or ITAR restrictions associated with them. Sales of weapons systems like this requires Congressional approval, though, strangely enough, one could argue these restrictions violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

The United States has recently clamped down on the sales and imports of military surplus aircraft for this reason. Nevertheless sales of these products are still occurring. I recently saw ads for the sale of Panavia Tornado ADV aircraft which the UK is selling off to the highest bidders. Most likely these birds suffer some sort of demilitarization process. This usually entails mutilating the airframe to cutout wing hardpoints, removal of the radar and cannon and replacement of these items with counterweights - possibly even restrictions on the engines, stripping out datalink busses and classified avionics LRUs, etc.

UPDATE - One notable case of a civilian trying to acquire a military aircraft that gained national attention involved the Pepsi Bottling Company. It centered on the following television advertisement for their Pepsi Points promotional campaign.

As it turned out these 'Pepsi Points' could be traded on the open market at the time (as opposed to needing the additional trouble of buying Pepsi products for them) for $0.10/point. An investor named John Leonard spent 700,000 USD to acquire the required 7,000,000 Pepsi Points, then sent them into PepsiCo and demanded a Harrier in return, claiming that PepsiCo had made an offer in the ad. PepsiCo refused and Leonard sued. The judge in Leonard v. PepsiCo ruled that this did not constitute a legitimate offer as required by contract law and that the ad suggested the Harrier simply to be farcical. Later versions of the ad featured the price of the jet changed to 700,000,000 Pepsi points for added deterrence against future schemes like Leonard's.

Some airframes were destroyed or donated to museums to prevent spare parts from being exported to unfriendly nations; this was the fate of the poor F-14. All Tomcats which could not be donated as artifacts or for gate guard/pole duty were chopped up and sold for scrap. The fact that Iran still operates some 70 or so F-14s and concerns about spare parts for the AWG-9 radar sets and AIM-54 missiles ending up there was the primary motivator for this. Hollywood producer Donald Bellesario attempted to acquire a flyable F-14; the sale was denied.

Still some aircraft make their way through the bureaucratic paperwork and end up in civilian hands. There is at least one F-16A and one F-18A which are in the hands of private owners and the Tornados discussed above will join those ranks shortly.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer, exactly what I was looking for. Any details on the falcon or the hornet? $\endgroup$
    – Bassinator
    Dec 15, 2016 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ Lol...That was about 10 years ago, but believe it or not both were actually listed on e-Bay out of all places! e-Bay also frequently lists MiGs for sale as well. As for the Tornado ADVs, they're still for sale, if the price is right. (warbirdsnews.com/warbirds-news/…) $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ "Sales of weapons systems like this requires Congressional approval" You might wish to edit your answer to take into account that the US Congress has jurisdiction over less than 1% of the countries in the world... $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby, Congress has jurisdiction over a far greater percentage of the surplus warbirds, and probably close to a third of new manufacture. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Dec 17, 2016 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark Sure. But there are a lot of other countries in the world, and a lot of other congresses and it would be nice if answers acknowledged this. Obviously, we can't expect every answer to apply to every country but it would be nice if people said things like "In the US, Congress does X" rather than just "Congress does X." $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2016 at 9:11

It partially depends on whether the military giving them up are willing to let the technology go. In the case of the F14 every single one had their engines and any novel systems destroyed completely after retirement to keep any parts from getting to Iran, which bought F14s before the revolution deposed the Shah.

As for getting one most militaries go through a middleman of some sort, which one is used depends on the country and branch. There are exceptions for this, for example the UK MOD sells things on-line although aircraft are rarely posted.

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    $\begingroup$ I should have been a bit more specific, the military didn't destroy the airframes, but the engines and any instruments and systems that were specific to the aircraft and not available through the open market. So you can't buy a flyable surplus F-14 $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Oct 25, 2014 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby and no doubt most of the ones in museums were donated as a loan with strict limits to what can be done with them in terms of sending them to be shown elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Oct 27, 2014 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting When I made my comment, the answer was claiming that every last F-14 the US military ever owned had been shredded. Since it no longer claims that, I've deleted my comment. $\endgroup$ Oct 27, 2014 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting I'm pretty sure that before a museum gets it most of the classified parts are removed. Not much to learn from avionics displays without the chips beneath. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2015 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised they went to the trouble of specifically destroying the engines, given that the Tomcat's engine of choice, the F110, is a slightly-modified F101, and you can get the good bits of an F101 by stripping down a CFM56, which are ridiculously easy to get ahold of. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Sep 12, 2019 at 21:20

Yes, you can! A MiG-19 was for sale not long ago, also a handmade copy of a Polikárpov I-16, two were build in New Zealand, the first custom-ordered by an Spanish old aviation team, a Russian Space Shuttle, probably never flown, was recently published, the spaceship was offered along with its hangar and a second space flying machine, but becoming aware of these auctions is not easy...


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