|1974 Aero Vodochody L39C Albatros
N992RT (sn 530509)
Photo taken Aug. 2010 @ Aurora Municipal Airport, Chicago/Aurora, IL - USA (ARR / KARR)
|Photo © Marcel Siegenthaler
The Aero L-39 Albatros is a high-performance jet trainer aircraft developed in Czechoslovakia to meet requirements for a "C-39" (C for cvičný – trainer) during the 1960s to replace the L-29 Delfín. It was the first of the second-generation jet trainers, and the first turbofan-powered trainer produced, and was later updated as the L-59 Super Albatros and as the L-139 (prototype L-39 with engine Garrett TFE731). The design is still produced in an evolved state as the L-159 ALCA, while more than 2,800 L-39s still serve with over 30 air forces around the world. The Albatros – the most widely used jet trainer in the world – is versatile, seeing duty in light-attack missions as well as in basic and advanced pilot training.
Design and development
The L-39 (under the name Prototype X-02) first flew on 4 November 1969 and was piloted by Rudolf Duchoň, main factory's test pilot. Serial production began in 1971. The design is Czechoslovak (Czech) – the construction of Aero's chief designer Jan Vlček. The L-39 Albatros is a widely flown trainer/light attack aircraft similar in mission to the Italian MB339. Until now is in service with various former Soviet allies.
The low, slightly swept wing has a double-taper planform, 2½-deg dihedral from the roots, a relatively low aspect ratio, and 26½-gal US (100-liter) fuel tanks permanently attached to the wingtips . The trailing edge has double-slotted trailing edge flaps inboard of mass-balanced ailerons; the flaps are separated from the ailerons by small wing fences.
The tall, swept vertical tail has an inset rudder. Variable-incidence horizontal stabilizers with inset elevators are mounted at the base of the rudder and over the exhaust nozzle. Side-by-side airbrakes are located under the fuselage ahead of the wing's leading edge. Flaps, landing gear, wheel brakes and air brakes are powered by a hydraulic system. Controls are pushrod-actuated and have electrically powered servo tabs on the ailerons and rudder. Operational g-force limits at 9,259 lb (4,200 kg) are +8/-4 g.
A single turbofan engine, an Ivchenko AI-25TL (made in Soviet Union) is embedded in the fuselage and is fed through shoulder-mounted, semi-circular air intakes (fitted with splitter plates) just behind the cockpit; the engine exhausts below the tailplane. Five rubber bag fuel tanks are located in the fuselage behind the cockpit. The main, trailing-arm landing gear legs retract inward into wing bays; the nose gear retracts forward.
A long, pointed nose made of fiberglass leads back to the tandem cockpit, in which the student and instructor sit under individual canopies that are hinged on the right. The rear (instructor's) seat is raised slightly; both ejection seats are made by Aero.
The basic trainer is not armed, but has two underwing pylons for drop tanks and practice weapons. Light-attack variants have four underwing hardpoints for ground attack stores; the ZA also has an underfuselage gun pod.
This model is no longer in production and is replaced by the L-159.
In the spring of 2008, a number of Georgian drones were shot down by Abkhaz separatist or Russian forces. In the first of these occasions, on April 20, 2008. Another was shot down by a Russian MiG-29 over Abkhazia region. The Abkhazian separatist forces claimed that one of its missile-equipped L-39 had downed a Georgian Hermes 450 unmanned reconnaissance drone.
While newer versions are now replacing older L-39s in service, thousands remain in active service as trainers, and many are finding new homes with private owners all over the world. This is particularly evident in the United States, where their $200,000-$300,000 price puts them in range of moderately wealthy pilots looking for a fast, agile personal jet. Their popularity led to a purely L-39 Jet class at the Reno Air Races (though it has since been expanded to include other, similar aircraft). As of mid-March 2006, there are 257 L-39s in the US Federal Aviation register.
Several display teams use the L-39 such as The Patriots Jet Team (4 L-39s) and the Breitling Jet Team (7 L-39s).
There are also several L-39 available for private jet rides: In the United States: in Florida, New York and California, in Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Russia. Those L-39 jets are partly in private hands. But they can also belong to training facilities of the Ministry of Defense, this is the case in Vyazma, Russia.
In popular culture
A L-39 was used in the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, where the James Bond character steals the aircraft. The 2005 film Lord of War features a scene in which a L-39 intercepts an An-12 cargo plane.
It also features prominently in ArmA II Operation: Arrowhead as a fighter for the OpFor.
L-39X-01 - X-07
Five prototypes plus two static test airframes.
L-39C (C for Cvičná - training)
Standard basic trainer for Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and export. Originially designated L-39, but renamed L-39C when later variants appeared. Two pylons under wing. Approximately 2,260 built.
L-39CM (CM for Cvičná modernizovaná - modernised training)
Slovak upgraded C version.
Ukrainian upgraded C version with AI-25TLSh engines. The conversion is carried out by Odesaviaremservis and the first plane was ready in 2009. The upgrade of a further 7 L-39C's is planned.
L-39V (V for Vlečná - tug)
Single-seat target tug version for Czechoslovakia. Equipped to tow KT-04 target on 1,700 m (5,600 ft) cable. Prototype plus eight production aircraft built.
L-39ZO (Z for Zbraně - weapons)
Interim weapon trainer variant for export. Four pylons stressed for 500 kg (1,100 lb) (inboard) and 250 kg (550 lb) (outboard), with total external load of 1,150 kg (2,500 lb). First flew 25 June 1975, with initial deliveries to Iraq in 1977. 337 built.
Significantly upgraded L-39ZO for armed training and light attack, employing sturdier landing gear, a higher payload (total 1,290 kg (2,844 lb)) and notably provision for a GSh-23L 23 millimeter twin barreled cannon attached in a conformal pod under the pilots' compartment, having a 150 round magazine within the airframe. Outer pylons wired to carry K-13 or R-60) air-to-air missiles. Two prototypes, with first flying on 29 September 1976. 208 aircraft delivered.
Slovak upgraded ZA version.
Thai version of L-39ZA with Elbit avionics. 40 built.
The Aero L-39MS Super Albatros is a second generation military trainer aircraft developed from the firm's earlier L-39. Compared to its predecessor, it featured a strengthened fuselage, longer nose, a vastly updated cockpit, and a more powerful (21.6 kN (4,850 lbf)) Lotarev DV-2 engine, allowing operation at higher weights and speeds (max speed 872 km/h (542 mph)). First flight on 30 September 1986. It was later designated as the Aero L-59 .
L-139 Albatros 2000
Revised version with western avionics and 17.99 kN (4,045 lbf) Garrett TFE731-4-1T engine. Single prototype built.
Further modernised advanced trainer/combat aircraft with more modern, western avionics and Honeywell F124 engine.
The List of Aero L-39 Albatros operators lists the countries and their air force units that have operated the aircraft:
- Abkhazia - Abkhazian Air Force
4 L-39s as of December 2009
- Afghanistan - Afghan Air Force
The Afghan Air Force operated as many as 26 L-39Cs from 1977 through 2001, with some reports indicating as many as two may remain serviceable.
- Algeria - Algerian Air Force
Operates 7 L-39C and 32 L-39ZA aircraft in two squadrons:
632e Escadron d'Instruction et d'Appuis "Tigre"
18e Escadron d'Entrainement Avancé
- Armenia - Armenian Air Force
- Azerbaijan - Azerbaijan Air Force
- Bangladesh - Bangladesh Air Force
Operating 32 L-39ZA aircraft
- Bulgaria - Bulgarian Air Force
1/12 Training Squadron operating 12 L-39ZA aircraft
- Cambodia - Royal Cambodian Air Force
Fighter Squadron operating 8 L-39ZA aircraft
- Chad - Military of Chad
Operating 11 L-39ZO aircraft.
- Chechen Republic of Ichkeria - Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Air Force
Chechens operated few L-39Cs taken over from Soviet Air Force inventory. All Chechen aircraft were destroyed during First Chechen War after Russian air strike on airfield in Grozny, though 4 were reported to have been donated to Abkhazia by Dzhokhar Dudayev.
- Republic of the Congo - Congolese Air Force
- Cuba - Cuban Air Force
operating 30 L-39C aircraft in three squadrons:
UM 3710 Escuadrón de Intercepcion
UM 1660 Escuela de Ensenanza de Vuelo Avanzada
UM 4768 Escuadrón de Intercepcion
- Czech Republic - Czech Air Force
- Czechoslovakia - Czechoslovakian Air Force
Two Czechoslovakian AF L-39Vs were delivered to the East German Air Force .
All Czechoslovakian Air Force aircraft passed to successor states - Czech Republic and Slovakia.
- East Germany - East German Air Force
Two former Czechoslovak L-39Vs delivered to the East German Air Force.
Twenty former East German L-39ZO delivered to Hungary.
- Egypt - Egyptian Air Force
Ten former Libyan L-39ZO delivered to Egypt.
- Estonia - Estonian Air Force
- Ethiopia - Ethiopian Air Force
- Ghana - Ghana Air Force
- Hungary - Hungarian Air Force
Twenty former East German L-39ZO delivered to Hungary
- Iraq - Iraqi Air Force
- Kazakhstan - Kazakhstan Air Force
- Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyzstan Air Force
- Libya - Libyan Air Force
Ten former Libyan L-39ZO delivered to Egypt.
- Lithuania - Lithuanian Air Force
- Nicaragua - Nicaraguan Air Forces
- Nigeria - Nigerian Air Force
- North Korea - Korean People's Air Force
- Romania - Romanian Air Force
- Russia - Russian Air Force
- Slovakia - Slovak Air Force
- Soviet Union - DOSAAF - Soviet Air Force
All Soviet Air Force aircraft passed to successor states: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
- Syria - Syrian Air Force
- Thailand - Thai Air Force - Thai Army
Following Squadrons use the L-39ZA/ART
401 Sqn 4th Wing RTAFB Thakli
411 Sqn 41st Wing RTAFB Chiang Mai
Following Squadrons are former users of the L-39ZA/ART
101 Sqn 1st Wing RTAFB Khorat
102 Sqn 1st Wing RTAFB Khorat
- Tunisia - Tunisia Air Force
- Turkmenistan - Turkmenistan Air Force
- Uganda - Ugandan Air Force
- Ukraine - Ukrainian Air Force
- Uzbekistan - Uzbekistan Air Force
- Vietnam - Vietnamese Air Force
- Yemen - Yemen Air Force
- Soviet Union - DOSAAF
DOSAAF paramilitary organization, tasked with the training and preparation of reserves for the Soviet armed forces, operated unknown number of L-39.
- United States
Hundreds of L-39s are finding new homes with private owners all over the world, especially in the United States.
24 January 2001 Atlas Air Founder, Chairman and CEO Michael A. Chowdry was killed Jan. 24 when his Czech L-39 jet trainer crashed into an open field near Watkins, Colorado. Also killed was Wall Street Journal aerospace reporter Jeff Cole. Chowdry and Cole were making a planned flight from Front Range Airport.
2 July 2003 Elmo Hahn, 54, a developer and well-known pilot in Muskegon, Mich., died soon after a crash of his L-39. Hahn was returning to Muskegon after filming a segment about the L-39 Albatross for CNN. He was lifting off in his aircraft and ejected from the plane due to an engine failure caused by ingestion of objects from the aircraft's baggage compartment, which had not been latched. Hahn did not survive.
25 January 2006 Major Stephen Freeman (Montana) USMC, Retired was killed when he steered the L-39MS (N104XX) he was prepossessing away from a populated area in Ketchikan, Alaska. The weather was a factor in the crash. Five people on the ground were injured.
16 March 2007 An L-39 crashed at the Tico Warbird air show at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida, killing the pilot. The pilot was identified as attorney Eilon Krugman-Kadi, 58, of Gainesville, FL, a former Israeli fighter pilot. The L-39 had been built for the Soviet air force in 1980, and was demilitiarized in 1999 from Ukraine.
13 September 2007 Air race pilot Brad Morehouse of Afton, Wyoming was killed when his L-39 crashed in a race at the Reno Air Races. According to newspaper reports, it appeared that pilot lost control when the plane was caught in wake turbulence generated by other racers.
21 March 2010 An L-39 crashed in Cumana, Venezuela, killing the pilot (Walter Oravsky Brand, 72) and 6 people on the ground, 3 more reported wounded. It was caused by an engine failure. The pilot, reported the ATC his intentions to perform engine emergency procedures, a few minutes later the plane crashed.
Specifications (Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros)
Length: 12.13 m (39 ft 9½ in)
Wingspan: 9.46 m (31 ft 0½ in)
Height: 4.77 m (15 ft 7¾ in)
Wing area: 18.8 m² (202 ft²)
Airfoil: NACA 64A012 mod
Empty weight: 3,455 kg (7,617 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 4,700 kg (10,362 lb)
Powerplant: 1× Ivchenko AI-25TL turbofan, 16.87 kN (3,792 lbf)
Never exceed speed: Mach 0.80 (609 mph, 980 km/h)
Maximum speed: 750 km/h (405 knots, 466 mph) at 5,000 m (16,400 ft)
Range: 1,100 km (593 nmi, 683 mi) (internal fuel)
1,750 km, (944 nmi, 1,087 mi) (internal and external fuel)
Service ceiling: 11,000 m (36,100 ft)
Rate of climb: 13.5 m/s (4,130 ft/min)
Wing loading: 250.0 kg/m² (51.3 lb/ft²)
Climb to 5,000 m (16,400 ft): 5 min
- 2 hr 30 min (internal fuel)
- 3 hr 50 min (internal and external fuel)
Take-off roll: 530 m (1,740 ft)
Landing roll: 650 m (2,140 ft)
Up to 284 kg (626 lb) of stores on two external hardpoints
2× wingtip fuel tanks