Retiring an outmoded jet

Today I dusted off a book that I've had for 45 years: Air Navigation, Department of the Air Force. Flipping through the book-which was a gift from an Air Force navigator, the father of one of my Cub Scout buddies-always stirs up memories. One concerns the time my buddy, Richie, and I submitted unsolicited pencil-sketch proposals for fighter jets to the Kennedy Administration. When I was young, I would have sworn to you that these designs made it into production, but as I became older I realized that instead our drawings may simply have led to our becoming the first Cub Scouts ever to appear on a government watch list. 

Another memory involves a trip that our den took with Richie's dad to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. I particularly remember the roar and flames that accompanied a fighter jet's takeoff. "That's the Widow Maker," said my friend's dad, citing one of the names given to the F-104 "Starfighter" due to its rather high accident rate in the 60s. 

That aircraft and its nickname got me thinking about the used jet market and how new aircraft and technology seem to ring the death knell for older models-and about how some airplane owners ignore the call. When a fighter jet becomes obsolete, the military retires it, and perhaps that's an easy decision because taxpayers are footing the bill and freedom is at stake. Parking a bizjet is different. It's like shooting your horse to put it out of its misery-a wise move, perhaps, but not easy to do. 

Close to 2,500 jets built in the 60s and 70s continue to operate, and about 20 percent of those are for sale. That compares with fewer than 12 percent for aircraft delivered between 1990 and 2009 and just 10 percent for aircraft built between 2000 and 2009.

Business jets don't come stamped with expiration dates, but they do expire. Among those built between 1960 and 1965, only 62 remain in operation. While owners usually have the final say as to when the end has come, technology and the marketplace clearly influence that decision. Right now, sellers of older-generation jets have their hands full trying to attract buyers. Some of these sellers will likely have tough decisions to make in the months and years to come. 

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