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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EADS May Put Tourists in Stratosphere

Www.migavia.ruIf the project gets the green light, a 12-seat tourist cabin would be strapped to MiGs.
Thrill seekers with $10,000 to burn may soon get the chance to take rides into the stratosphere on the back of a MiG-31, one of the Russian air force's most advanced jets.

The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., or EADS, is in talks with the jet's designer, RSK MiG, to strap glass-encased, 12-seat passenger cabins to the top of three MiGs.

It would be like riding the world's fastest roller coaster to unrivaled altitudes of 20 kilometers above the earth's surface.

"Perhaps some tourist company or future investor will lease the craft to offer such flights," spokesman Gregor Kursell said by phone from EADS headquarters in Munich on Monday.

"We are now looking for an investor in the United Arab Emirates," he said, adding that an estimated $50 million to $100 million would be needed to finance the program.

"It is not going to be one of our core programs. It is only interesting to us from a technical point of view," Kursell said.

The first passenger-equipped MiGs could be ready in three to four years, he said -- provided the project takes off.

"It is still early to talk about it, but we are looking at the possibility, because [the jet] may become popular in the future," he said.

A two-seat supersonic fighter, the MiG-31 Foxhound, took to the skies in 1975. By 1987, an estimated 150 of them were in operation, dedicated to Russia's national air defense. The number currently in commission is classified as a state secret.

The MiG-31 can fly at a maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers per hour and can track 10 targets simultaneously.

Beside Russia, only Kazakhstan includes the MiG-31 among its fleet of jets. China has shown interest in the MiG-31, yet no jets have been sold as the Defense Ministry is wary of giving China that technology.

Last year RSK MiG delivered 25 MiG-29s, its bestselling jet, worth $350 million, to countries like Yemen, Myanmar and Eritrea.

When contacted, RSK MiG spokesman Yevgeny Smirnov declined to comment on the project, saying only that any upgrade of the jet would not be possible without his company's participation.

But not everyone is convinced it is a good idea.

At the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, deputy director Konstantin Makiyenko said that RSK MiG would be wiser to sell the MiG-31 to China instead, because profits would be more guaranteed.

Viktor Andryunev, deputy general director of Nizhny Novgorod's Sokol plant, which manufactures the jet, said Monday that he was only vaguely familiar with the EADS project. Sokol has its own project in the pipeline for putting tourists on board the MiG-31, he said, and it is waiting for the government's permission to go forward with it.