- A French vinter holds the world record for the number of fighter jets in private hands.
- The collection spans forty years of aviation, from World War II to the late Cold War.
- The fighters are no longer in flying condition, but they’re still an impressive sight.
A French winemaker holds the title for the largest private collection of fighter jets in the world. Michel Pont, a vinter who lives in the Burgundy region of France, grows grapes for wine and collects fighter jets. Pont’s collection includes airplanes from the dawn of the Jet Age, such as the Royal Air Force’s Meteor fighter, all the way up to the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Pont, a former race car driver, bought 12 hectares (29 acres) in the heart of French wine country. The property includes a castle built in 1340. The surrounding land originally wasn’t worth much, but after clearing it Pont set aside four hectares for vine cultivation and two to three hectares for airplanes. It sounds like he had his priorities straight from the beginning.
Pont has 110 aircraft, mostly fighters but including a handful of military helicopters. His collection is diverse. Chronologically it starts with the Gloster Meteor, the U.K.’s first fighter jet and the only Allied fighter jet to serve in combat during World War II. Next might be a F-86 Sabre in Luftwaffe markings, which served West Germany in the 1950s. There’s a whole bunch of fighters from the 60s and 70s, including the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, English Electric Lightning, F-100 Super Sabre, and Mirage III fighters.
The collection has some peculiar finds. A Republic F-105 Thunderchief, one of the largest fighters ever to serve with the U.S. Air Force and workhorse of the Vietnam war, is sitting in the collection. It’s not clear how a Frenchman got hold of one of the rarer fighters in museum collections. There are several fighters from the former Soviet Union, including a Sukhoi Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack aircraft and several Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters. These were purchased from former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland and Hungary. One unidentified aircraft was purchased from Djibouti.
The most modern—and difficult to procure—fighter in Pont’s inventory is a F-16A Fighting Falcon fighter. According to Pont, he was friends with a Belgian Air Force general and expressed an interest in acquiring a Belgian F-16. Unfortunately the U.S. typically gets final say in how American-made equipment is disposed of, even by its closest allies, and for a long time the answer from the Belgium Air Force was a sympathetic “no.” Pont eventually got his fighter jet.
Pont's collection has received the stamp of approval by the Guinness Book of World Records. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder than ever to amass collections of military equipment like this. Older aircraft, particularly those operated by foreign countries, are easier but more modern U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft are difficult, if not impossible for private collectors to buy. Although the F/A-18C Hornet no longer flies active duty concerns about technology transfers and parts making their way onto the international black market mean it’s hard to imagine private collectors getting their hands on one.
Pont’s castle at Savigny-lès-Beaune, along with his fighter jet collection, is open every day from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
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