The Aero L-39 Al­ba­tros and fam­ily

A trainer for the world

Aviation Classics - - AVIATION - Words: Tim Call­away

We are de­lighted to have the op­por­tu­nity to tell the full story of a re­mark­able air­craft, the world’s first tur­bo­fan pow­ered train­ing air­craft and the most suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary jet trainer of all time in terms of num­bers of cus­tomers. De­signed by the Aero Vodochody team un­der chief designer Jan Vicek, the pro­to­type Aero L-39, ac­tu­ally the sec­ond air­craft built, first flew on Novem­ber 4, 1969. Full scale pro­duc­tion be­gan in 1971 to equip the air forces of the War­saw Pact and their al­lies as the stan­dard ba­sic and ad­vanced jet trainer with a sec­ondary role as a light ground-attack air­craft. The L-39 was in­tro­duced to re­place an­other suc­cess­ful Aero type, the L-29 Delfin of 1959, which had been built in large num­bers to fill the same role; some 3600 L-29s be­ing built be­tween 1963 and 1974, serv­ing with 26 air forces world­wide. Th­ese were fol­lowed by 2869 L-39s be­tween 1971 and 1999, which were to equip the air forces of a re­mark­able 43 na­tions, 39 of which still use the type. The longevity of the L-39 in ser­vice is down to two fac­tors. The first is the typ­i­cally rugged and re­li­able Aero de­sign, the tough air­frame be­ing able to ab­sorb the rough han­dling of stu­dent pi­lots and be­ing flown to a stress limit of +8 and –4G. Se­condly, the L-39 is one of the most cost ef­fec­tive jet train­ers ever built, its ba­sic and op­er­at­ing costs be­ing both at­trac­tive and af­ford­able to air forces with a limited bud­get. At the same time as be­ing af­ford­able, the L-39 is a very high per­for­mance air­craft and is still fully sup­ported by Aero with a range of mod­i­fi­ca­tions and up­grades. The trainer was to be used in com­bat by six of its cus­tomer na­tions, and we tell the full story of the op­er­a­tional ca­reer of this lithe and ag­ile air­craft. With the end of the Cold War, the rel­a­tively low cost of the Aero train­ers made them very at­trac­tive on the civil mar­ket for pri­vate own­ers in a va­ri­ety of roles, such as air rac­ing, for­ma­tion dis­play teams, ex­pe­ri­ence fly­ing and as pri­vate air­craft. Cur­rently, five coun­tries have pri­vate L-39s on their reg­is­ters, the largest cus­tomer be­ing the US with over 255 fly­ing to­day. The L-39 was de­vel­oped into the L-59 and L-159 and most re­cently the L-39NG was an­nounced in 2014, an ex­ten­sive re­design of the orig­i­nal trainer con­cept with greater in­ter­nal fuel, mod­ern avion­ics and a Wil­liams FJ44 tur­bo­jet. This is­sue will tell the com­plete story of this el­e­gant jet, from the en­gi­neer­ing be­hind it to pi­lot sto­ries from the cock­pit.

Aero Vodochody

An Aero L-39ZA of the Czech Air Force along­side the air­craft it re­placed, the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion’s Aero L-29 Delfin.

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