Civilian flies fighter plane over DeKalb


Paul van den Heuvel, of Lake in the Hills, stands next to his Russian-built MiG-21UM Friday at the DeKalb Municipal Airport where the craft is stored.

By Dan Martynowicz

Residents may have noticed a fighter plane flying the skies around DeKalb.

Paul van den Heuvel has been flying a Russian built MiG-21UM jet fighter plane for the last six years.

An airline pilot for United Airlines, van den Heuvel has no military background or fighter training through the United States Military.

“Just a civilian living the dream,” he said.

Van den Heuvel traced the airplane’s history from when it was built in the former USSR until he took ownership. It was purchased by the original owner from the Polish Air Force where it flew missions until it was imported to the United States in 1992. Van den Heuvel bought the plane in 1998 and it was certified by the FAA as experimental in 2004. The MiG cost three times the purchase price, an engine change and $165,000 for certification once in the United States.

Based out of the DeKalb Municipal Airport for the past two years, van den Heuvel is prohibited from flying the MiG commercially by the FAA due to the experimental class of the aircraft. Instead he flies in air shows, trains pilots on the plane and runs Red-Air missions with the U.S. Military. Red Air missions are training exercises for U.S. fighter pilots on interception, interaction and deterrence of threatening aircraft.

Storage and general upkeep of the craft alone can cost as much as $50,000 per year, van den Heuvel said. Each tank of gas costs $5,000. Capable of Mach 2, the aircraft at full throttle would expend the 658 gallons of internal fuel in less than 10 minutes.

Van den Heuvel has had the aircraft up for sale for the past two years.

“I’m not God’s gift to aviation, just the opposite,” he said. “I fly this jet to the best of my ability and no farther. As long as you understand that it is the master and you’re just along for the ride, you’ll be OK.”